Inbox: Merce Cunningham

September 11–October 12, 2015

MoMA

Merce Cunningham (American, 1919–2009). Notes for Roaratorio. 1983. Felt-tip pen on paper, 11 5/8 × 7 3/4″ (29.5 × 19.7 cm). Anonymous gift in honor of Margarete Roeder. © 2017 Merce Cunningham. Photo: Peter Butler
  • MoMA, Floor 1, Museum Lobby Museum Lobby

In this suite of 24 drawings, the choreographer Merce Cunningham maps out his 1983 dance Roaratorio. These diagrams use both verbal and visual signs to express the piece’s spatial and temporal elements—formations on the stage and the number of counts devoted to a sequence—as well as qualities of movement, as in the description “small, rapid bobbing.” Cunningham set the piece to his longtime partner John Cage’s musical score Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979), for which the composer traveled across Ireland to record sounds from places mentioned in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake (1939). Like Joyce’s text and Cage’s composition, Cunningham’s choreography mixes modern and vernacular vocabularies, injecting his signature technique with buoyant jigs and reels. The notes, which feature the dedication “To John Cage, with love, happy birthday,”
are shown alongside footage from a 1986 performance of the dance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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