+ Merce Cunningham To Show Weekly Master Dance Classes on the Web

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Beginning in September 2008, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) will present “Mondays With Merce,” a series of 26 weekly online video programs featuring  Mr. Cunningham’s Monday classes.

According to an article in the NY Times, these classes with the frail, 89-year-old master, are a sacred ritual, previously experienced by only Cunningham dancers and selected guests.  For more information, or to see a video clip of a dance class, visit www.merce.org.

Financed by the Mellon Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ferris Foundation, and executed in collaboration with New York University, the program will provide a glimpse into Mr. Cunningham’s artistic process, allowing viewers to observe as he teaches, rehearses, and even creates new works.

The project has three major components.

The 26 Episodes

First, there will be 26 episodes online begiining in September.  Each will include 30 to 40 minutes of technique class, edited and supplemented with interviews with Mr. Cunningham, collaborators like the artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and some of the original dancers from the pieces, and archival material.  The inspiration for dances will be shown, and the threads that link one work to another will be revealed.

Four cameras will cover the class.  One will provide a wide angle of the whole studio; another will do close-ups of Mr. Cunningham; a third will spotlight any single dancer; and a side-view camera will  focus on details like footwork. 

Nancy Dalva, a dance historian who will be directing the edited episodes, says, “If the company is performing ‘Ocean,’ which is based on the circle, we can go get archival footage of ‘Beach Birds,’ which has the same circle in it, and show the same Matisse poster, which Merce saw in his dentist’s office before he made the dance.”

Dalva suggests that you will “see dance the way Merce makes it — without the music, without the costumes, before it goes to the theater — so you see the work as he envisioned it, very purely, and there’s something very essential about that.  It gives you a sense of the identity of the works, their structure, their rhythm, and the class material is very often material that is going into a new dance.” 

She sees this as a way to bring the viewer at the other side of the computer into the studio at Westbeth.

Virtual Teaching to be Offered to  Universities and Colleges

Second, the full 90-minute weekly classes will be available to universities and colleges by subscription, allowing them to invite Mr. Cunningham, who is too frail to travel, into any studio as a virtual instructor.  The company hopes to eventually add a component that will allow students to ask Mr. Cunningham questions at the end of the semester.

Diane E. Ragsdale, an associate program officer of the Mellon Foundation, states, “The Company’s long-term goal is to develop a strategy targeted to dance departments, colleges, libraries; and we thought that was all very important.”

Preservation, Including 60 Years’ Worth of Archival Material

The project’s third component is preservation.  The Company is working closely with Howard Besser, director of the Moving Image, Archiving and Preservation Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.  Besser and his department will also go through the Company’s video archives, dating back 60 years, and digitize that material as well.

source: NY Times article by Julie Bloom on 1/20/08.  www.nytimes.com.

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