Gerda Peterich, Merce Cunningham, 1952. Courtesy of Fall for Dance North
Widely considered one of the most important choreographers of all time, Merce Cunningham’s revolutionary ideas changed the dance world forever. In November of 2019, as part of our roster of AGO Talks, Screenings and Performances supported by TD & The Ready Commitment, homage was paid to Cunningham’s legacy with AGO Live: 100 Years of Merce Cunningham.
Presented in partnership with Fall for Dance North, the evening included Cunningham's Changing Steps performed by the dancers of Ryerson School of Performance, as well as Cunningham Centennial Solos: Toronto with dancers David Norsworthy, Una Ludviksen and Christian Allen. Dylan Crossman, who staged the performances, also performed Jamais Plus / EDITED with Ludviksen and Angela Blumberg. Staged in Walker Court, the performance was accompanied by live piano from Adam Tendler with a special appearance by Sara Mearns, principle dancer with the New York City Ballet.
To learn more about Merce Cunningham and get the inside scoop on this exciting addition to AGO Live lineup, we spoke with Ilter Ibrahimof, co-founder and artistic director of Fall for Dance North.
AGO: Tell us about Fall for Dance North.
Ibrahimof: Fall for Dance North is Toronto’s premier international dance festival. This past October we celebrated our 5th anniversary with our biggest program of performances yet. It all started as a three-day festival with three programs at Meridian Hall (formerly the Sony Centre), and ever since we’ve expanded.
AGO: What was the inspiration for the AGO Live program?
Ibrahimof: After a successful partnership with Ryerson University last year, we decided that our next project with the dance students would be a Merce Cunningham tribute to celebrate his 100 years. While planning the program, we started looking for ways to bring this work to a larger audience outside the university. Through the partnership we’ve added live music, we’ve added two additional pieces and altogether I think we’ve created something really exciting.
AGO: What challenges and opportunities are presented when you perform a piece in an art gallery?
Ibrahimof: There are specific technical needs that are lost in a museum, like a sprung dance floor and wings off the side of the stage, but the advantage of Walker Court is the audience’s ability to see this art form extremely close-up. Cunningham was also interested in creating choreography that could be seen from all angles, specifically in a gallery or museum environment, which makes staging these pieces at the AGO extremely special.
AGO: What made Merce Cunningham such an important figure in modern dance?
Ibrahimof: Cunningham was a visual artist who pioneered the idea that choreography can live outside of music. Traditionally, choreographers matched their pieces to the accompanying music, but Cunningham focused entirely on the visual and aesthetic side of dance, separating it from the music. Cunningham was also a collaborator at heart, transforming his process by incorporating designers, visual artists, musicians and other creative elements with the dance, which operated independently of it all.