In celebration of Merce Cunningham’s centennial year, choreographers Richard Alston, Julie Cunningham and Siobhan Davies along with composer Gavin Bryars reflect on and share their personal experiences of working with Merce and his company. The discussion is chaired by Jeremy Millar, visual artist and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art.
A Siobhan Davies Dance event in partnership with Dance Umbrella
About the panellists +
Richard Alston, Artistic Director of The Place, is internationally recognised as one of the most inspiring and influential choreographers in dance.
In 1975 Alston left for New York to study at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio. Perhaps more than any other choreographer, Alston is known for his instinctive musicality. Ironically, working with Cunningham – known as the man who completely divorced dance from music – brought Richard back to his musical instincts.
“I think that’s the first time I really dealt with music. I had very specific ideas about how music and dance should co-operate. I don’t like the ‘bathroom effect’ – when you put on music that makes you feel huge – it’s great in the shower but I don’t want it in the theatre. I want the thing you see to be what uplifts you.” Richard Alston
Gavin Bryars is a composer and double bassist. He has worked in jazz, free improvisation, minimalism, historicism, avant-garde, and experimental music.
Gavin’s hugely successful collaboration with Merce Cunningham on Biped was in the Cunningham Company’s repertoire and played world-wide. Biped was the last work performed on the Cunningham “Legacy Tour,” which ended the life of the company in December 2011.
“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” Michael Ondaatje
Julie Cunningham is an award-winning dance artist, performing both nationally and internationally with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for 9 years, between 2003–2011.
Julie Cunningham & Company was established in 2017. In its short life the company has produced a new work for Sadler’s Wells mainstage as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations in 2018, 2 sold-out runs at the Barbican Pit Theatre (2017 & 2018), a new commission for the V&A’s REVEAL festival (2017), a new evening of work at Southbank Centre presented by Rambert (2017), a sold out presentation at Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the 2017 British Council Showcase, and a new creation for Dance Umbrella Festival 2017, among other engagements.
Julie explores an interest in gender and identity, and in the body and its emotional states, often working between movement and text from sources ranging from popular culture to literature. Julie is developing a new movement language that draws on her technical training but expands and transforms it using improvisation and creative methods from other art forms, such as devised theatre and poetry. The international appetite for Julie’s work continues to grow as she directs her creative voice to engage pressing political and social concerns, especially LGBTQ+ dialogues.
Siobhan Davies had a long friendship with Merce Cunningham, meeting him when she was very young, studying at his studios and evolving as both his and her company toured side by side at various festivals across several years. In April 2019, Davies was invited to perform in the Cunningham Centennial event, Night of 100 Solos, at the Barbican, London.
“Siobhan Davies, a key pioneer of contemporary dance in the UK, also explored the choreographer’s idiosyncrasies with a quiet sense of authority. Now in her late sixties, she possessed a gravitas on stage, a clarity in her sculpting of space and a surety in her stillnesses that evoked the man himself.” Martin Hargreaves, ArtForum, April 2019
Jeremy Millar (Chair)
Jeremy Millar is an artist, and senior tutor in Critical Practice, and Writing, at the Royal College of Art, London.
His recent solo exhibitions include M/W, Muzeum Stzuki, Lodz; XDO XOL, Whitstable Biennale (both 2014); Chandelier, London; The Oblate, Southampton City Art Gallery (2013); Resemblances, Sympathies, and Other Acts, CCA, Glasgow; and Mondegreen (with Geoffrey Farmer), Project Arts Centre, Dublin (both 2011); As Witkiewicz, Ethnographic Museum, Krakow (2010); Given, National Maritime Museum, London; and Projector, Ikon, Birmingham (both 2009–10); Plum Tree Blossom, Inverleith House, Edinburgh (2007).
With Siobhan Davies Dance he conceived the project material / rearranged / to / be (2017) and developed its themes and forms in collaboration with Davies and the other artists involved; he also contributed a video and two new mobiles to the performance installation, which opened at The Curve, Barbican, before touring to Tramway, Glasgow, the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, and Bluecoat, Liverpool.