Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary

Carrie Noland (Author)


One of the most influential choreographers of the twentieth century, Merce Cunningham is known for introducing chance to dance. Far too often, however, accounts of Cunningham's work have neglected its full scope, focusing on his collaborations with the visionary composer John Cage or insisting that randomness was the singular goal of his choreography. In this book, the first dedicated to the complete arc of Cunningham's career, Carrie Noland brings new insight to this transformative artist's philosophy and work, providing a fresh perspective on his artistic process while exploring aspects of his choreographic practice never studied before.
Examining a rich and previously unseen archive that includes photographs, film footage, and unpublished writing by Cunningham, Noland counters prior understandings of Cunningham's influential embrace of the unintended, demonstrating that Cunningham in fact set limits on the role chance played in his dances. Drawing on Cunningham's written and performed work, Noland reveals that Cunningham introduced variables before the chance procedure was applied and later shaped and modified the chance results. Chapters explore his relation not only to Cage, but also Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, James Joyce, and Bill T. Jones. Ultimately, Noland shows that Cunningham approached movement as more than "movement in itself," and that his work enacted archetypal human dramas. This remarkable book will forever change our appreciation of the choreographer's work and legacy.

Product Details

Price: $35.00
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Published Date: January 23, 2020
Pages: 304
Dimensions: 7.0 X 0.7 X 9.9 inches | 1.55 pounds
ISBN: 9780226541242

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About the Author

Carrie Noland is professor of French and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of many books, including Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Culture.


"Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary is a rigorously argued, extremely persuasive, and highly topical book. While Cunningham's work is famous for being almost tortuously difficult, Noland successfully reads it through the arbitrary and the human, the abstract and the motivated, the structural and the personal. She has done so, moreover, with a fluid voice that moves easily between the register of observation and the metacritical. It is at once historical, theoretical, and formalist, making it a model of scholarship in any humanist field. Noland moves deliberately, examining not only a sequence of Cunningham's dances but their interlocking relationships with other choreographies, both contemporaneous and otherwise."--Rachel Haidu, author of The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers 1964-1976
"Drawing from previously unseen materials in the Cunningham archive, Noland puts forward that an overemphasis on his use of chance downplays the choreographer's compositional skill and sense of theater--and that the two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive."--Rachel Haidu, author of The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers 1964-1976 "Dance Magazine"
"What a terrific addition to the library! Noland is . . . taking the received understanding of Cunningham, and working against its fetish terms of chance, indeterminacy, nonnarrative, and so forth, to probe instead for Cunningham's interest in human connections and particularities. The effect of moving through Noland's text is of an unfolding of multiple issues and optics, many of them fundamentally biographical, all in turn shaping the kinesthetics of Cunningham's expertise as dancer and as choreographer. Rather than presenting the evanescent medium of dance as a linear compositional project, Noland shows it as constellational-recursive, dialogic, felt, meant, and, most importantly, thought."--Judith Rodenbeck, author of Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings "Dance Magazine"
"In this groundbreaking study of the work of Cunningham, Noland redefines the very terms with which it came to prominence in the 1960s and has continued to be discussed. Her revisionist gesture is not only timely: it heightens the significance of his work for us today."--Mark Franko, author of Martha Graham in Love and War: The Life in the Work "Dance Magazine"