Abigail Sebaly: Esprit de tour: A conversation on retracing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s 1964 world tour
This event is co-presented by Danspace Project, the Merce Cunningham Trust, and the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) at Wesleyan University.
In 1964, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company embarked on a 6-month world tour throughout Europe and Asia, a series of events that fundamentally altered both the company and the many artistic communities whom they encountered during their journey. A half-century later, researcher Abigail Sebaly is pursuing the first comprehensive retracing of the original itinerary, crossing the globe to map the diverse artistic and cultural contexts that characterized each port of call, and collecting unique firsthand accounts from many who interacted with the company.
This ongoing project was conceived by Sebaly, whose longtime affiliation with Cunningham includes serving as a staff member for the Cunningham Dance Foundation (2003-2008) and, more recently, as a research consultant to the Merce Cunningham Trust. She initially developed the foundations of her project while completing the Graduate Certificate Program at Wesleyan University’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (2013).
Sebaly will present project updates as she shares her travelogue-in-progress and moderates a conversation with special guests: Carolyn Brown, Petr Kotik, Lewis Lloyd, and David Vaughan.
Abigail Sebaly is currently pursuing an independent research project on the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s 1964 world tour, initially supported in part by the Merce Cunningham Trust, the Getty Research Institute, the John Cage Research Grant from the Northwestern University Library, and a Mabel Dodge Luhan House’s writers residency in Taos, New Mexico. From 2011–2014, she researched and cataloged the Walker Art Center’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection. Prior to this, she completed a Fulbright grant in Melbourne, Australia, and worked in various capacities for Cunningham Dance Foundation in New York, including as director of special projects and an administrative assistant to Merce Cunningham. She holds an M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago, a Graduate Certificate from the Institute for Curatorial Practice at Wesleyan University, and a B.F.A. in Dance and B.A. in English from the University of Michigan.
Carolyn Brown is the author of Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham, Knopf 2009. Born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts she first studied dance with her mother, Marion Rice, a student of the Denishawn School. She graduated with a degree in Philosophy from Wheaton College in 1950. After attending a masterclass with Cunningham in Denver in 1951, she decided to pursue dance full-time and moved to New York to continue her studies at the Juilliard School where she trained with Antony Tudor, and with Margaret Craske – with whom she continued to study throughout her performing years and beyond. She also studied with Cunningham and became one of the founding members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), formed at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1953. She performed in Cunningham’s company for twenty years and danced in 40 of his works. She also performed in Robert Rauschenberg’s performance piece Pelican (1963) and developed her own choreography including Car Lot (1968), As I Remember It, a solo in homage to Ted Shawn, Bunkered for a Bogey (1973), House Party (1974), Circles (1975), and Balloon II (Ballet-Théâtre Contemporain, 1976). She produced and directed Dune Dance, a forty minute film featuring Sara Rudner, filmed on Cape Cod by James Klosty. After leaving MCDC in 1973 she became a freelance choreographer, writer, lecturer, and teacher, and continues to work with the Merce Cunningham Trust as an artistic consultant. From 1995-2009 served as a member of the Cunningham Dance Foundation Board of Directors. She has been awarded the Dance Magazine Award, five National Endowment for the Arts grants, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Dance Perspectives, Ballet Review, and the Dance Research Journal. She lives in Millbrook, New York.
Petr Kotik (born Prague, Czech Republic, 1942), studied music in Prague and Vienna and has lived in the United States since 1969. Throughout his career, he has divided his time between composing, performing (solo flute, chamber music and conducting), and organizing concerts. In Vienna,1964, Kotik met John Cage and was asked to participate in the performance of Merce Cunningham’s Museum Event No. 1. Subsequently, he and his own ensemble, Musica Viva Pragensis, performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, John Cage, and David Tudor in Prague and Warsaw. Among other compositions, they performed Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra. For Kotik, it was the start of a relationship with Cage that continued until 1992. Upon his arrival in the U.S., Kotik founded the S.E.M. Ensemble, which expanded to The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble in 1992. At its Carnegie Hall debut, the Ensemble premiered the complete version of Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis, including an 86-piece orchestra, with David Tudor as the soloist (performing Winter Music). In 2001, Kotik founded the Biennial Summer Institute and Festival Ostrava Days, in Ostrava, Czech Republic. In 2005, he founded the International Chamber Orchestra Ostravská Banda and in 2012 participated in the creation of the Festival for New Opera (NODO). The opening production of NODO in 2012 was Cage’s Europera 5, performed for the first time ever in a traditional opera house setting. Among Kotik’s major works are Many Many Women (1975-78) –a 6-hour composition on text by Gertrude Stein, Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1982) – a 4-hour composition on text by R. Buckminster Fuller, Letters to Olga (1991) on text by Václav Havel, Music in Two Movements (1998) for large orchestra, Variations for 3 Orchestras (2005) and the chamber opera Master-Pieces (2014) with libretto by Gertrude Stein. Kotik has just completed a dance-opera, William William (2016) inspired by Isaac Babel and William Shakespeare, to be performed at the NODO festival in June 2016.
Lewis Lloyd (born 1938) graduated with a B.A. from Yale University in 1960. In 1974, he earned his master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s JFK School of Government. From 1962-1974, Lloyd was the owner and operator of The Pocket Theater, a 191 seat Off-Broadway theater. During that same period, Lloyd was also manager for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s tours abroad. In addition, from 1968-1972 Lloyd was employed as General Manager for the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From 1972-1974 Lloyd was the Program Director for the Performing Arts, New York State Council for the Arts. Lloyd was employed as the Manager of Finance and Administration for WGBH from 1975-1980. In addition to the financial and personnel responsibilities in this position, Lloyd initiated a line of book publishing which included Crockett’s Victory Garden and Julia Child and Company, oversaw the construction of a new wing, and worked on educational materials to supplement PBS TV Programs. Lloyd also served as executive in charge of production for the PBS mini-series,The Scarlet Letter. Working as an independent consultant from 1980-1985, Lloyd was involved in projects with: The Entertainment Channel (NYC); Planning and Programming Executive (now A&E on cable); BBI Productions, Channel 5 (Boston); Geneva Productions (Boston); Skidmore Owings & Merrill and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. He served as the CEO for Metro Net/Vermont, Inc, the owner/operator of the radio station WXXX-FM in Burlington, VT. In addition, Lloyd sat on the boards of the Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation (1978-82), Boston Ballet (1982-1996), and the Cunningham Dance Foundation (1996-2001).
David Vaughan (born London, England, May 17, 1924) has danced, sung, acted, and choreographed in London, Paris, on and off Broadway, in American regional theaters, in film, television, ballet and modern dance companies, and cabaret. He was the archivist of the Cunningham Dance Foundation. He is the author of Merce Cunningham: 50 Years (Aperture, 1997; as an app for iPad, as Merce Cunningham: 65 Years) and of Frederick Ashton and his Ballets (revised edition, Dance Books, 1999). He was a member of the editorial board of the International Encyclopedia of Dance (Oxford, 1998). At the Dancing in the Millennium Conference in Washington DC in July 2000, he received the 2000 CORD (Congress on Research in Dance) Award for Outstanding Leadership in Dance Research; in September 2001 he received a New York Dance and Performance Award (“Bessie”) for sustained achievement; in December 2015 a Dance Magazine Award. He returned to the stage in 2015, when Co.Venture, his collaboration with Pepper Fajans, won prizes at the Montreal Fringe Festival, returning in January to the Wild Side Theatre Festival in Montreal.