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Press Release: Merce Cunningham at 100 Years | CNDC- Angers/ Robert Swinston

For Immediate Release: 10/31/19

Contact: Beth Whelan 

5620 SW Edgemont Place, Portland, OR  97239  

(503) 245-1600  |



What: Merce Cunningham at 100: CNDC-Angers/ Robert Swinston Performs Two Masterworks of Merce Cunningham

Presented by: White Bird

When: Thurs- Sat |  November 21-23  | 7:30pm

Where: Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland, OR

Media sponsor: The Oregonian

Tickets: Starting at $30, available at and Portland’5 Box Office, 1111 SW Broadway with NO added fees. Or, call 503-245-1600 ext. 201 (note: Addition $3 per ticket charged for processing over the phone). Discounts available for groups/students/seniors and professional dancers

"The dancers maintain the calm strength that tells us everything about their commitment to Cunningham, and of Swinston’s commitment to his dancers... Read more" -  The Boston Globe

White Bird is elated to announce the celebration of 100 year anniversary of Merce Cunningham’s birthday with a special performance by Compagnie Centre National de Danse-Angers. Led by former celebrated Cunningham dancer Robert Swinston, CNDC-Angers, based in Angers,  France,  will perform two Cunningham masterworks, Beach Birds (1991) and Biped (1999). Merce Cunningham is widely considered to be one of the most important choreographers of all time. His groundbreaking approach to performance was noted by ideological simplicity and physical complexity. White Bird’s presentation of CNDC-Angers/Robert Swinston is part of a global centennial celebration of Cunningham’s life, work and legacy. Running Thurs-Sat, November 21-23 at the Newmark Theatre, White Bird will present three performances with shows each evening at 7:30pm. This monumental event is the only chance to witness Cunningham’s work performed live in the Pacific Northwest. 

There will be a pre-show talk before each performance from 6:50-7:05 with Bonnie Brooks, Associate Professor Emerita in Dance at Columbia College Chicago in Dance and Legacy Fellow for the final tour of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company before its closure at the end of 2011. Read Bonnie's bio here. The talk is free and open to all ticket holders! 

In addition to the performance, Robert Swinston will be teaching a Cunningham Technique masterclass on Saturday, November 23 from 12:30-2pm at FLOOR Center for Dance. The class is geared towards intermediate/advanced dancers and is a suggested donation of $12. More information here.

Beach Birds (1991) will open the Portland program. Cunningham said of his choreography for Beach Birds, “It is all based on individual physical phrasing. The dancers don’t have to be exactly together. They can dance like a flock of birds, when they suddenly take off.” A work for eleven dancers, the rhythm for "Beach Birds" was much more fluid than other Cunningham dances, so that the sections could differ in length from performance to performance. DC Metro Theatre Arts reviewed the work, saying "Beach Birds unfolds like an airborne flock of birds, constantly in motion, yet seemingly still as they soar, catching an air current. A pair or trio of dancers come together for a moment, break off, regroup, like birds alighting.” John Cage composed the music, and painter Marsha Skinner provided the costumes and décor. The dancers were dressed identically in all white leotards and tights, with black gloves. Skinner’s backcloth was a white scrim on which the light varied in color and intensity, decided by a lighting plot that was devised using chance methods. While the timings did not relate to the dance structure, the gradual changes of light have been interpreted to imitate those that might occur from dawn to dusk on a beach. 

Following intermission, the company will perform BIPED. "The dance gives me the feeling of switching channels on the TV...the action varies from slow formal sections to rapid broken-up sequences where it is difficult to see all the complexity,” says Cunningham of BIPED, his 1999 masterwork. Many people have commented on the elegiac nature of the closing moments of the piece. The décor for BIPED is an exploration of the possibilities of the animation technology of motion capture. The digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar collaborated with Cunningham, who, working with two dancers, choreographed 70 phrases that were transposed into digital images. These animated images, as well as abstract patterns (vertical and horizontal lines, dots, clusters), are projected on to a scrim at the front of the stage, behind which the live dancers may be seen. Cunningham also used computer software, DanceForms, to develop the choreography for the dance, which is in a number of sections: solos, duets, trios, and ensemble dances. The music by Gavin Bryars, also called Biped, is partly recorded and partly played live on acoustic instruments. Suzanne Gallo’s costumes use a metallic fabric that reflects light. At one point in the dance the men, clothed in pajama-like outfits in a transparent fabric, bring on tops in the same fabric for the women. Aaron Copp devised the lighting, dividing the stage floor into squares lit in what looked like a random sequence, as well as the curtained booths at the back of the stage that permit the dancers to appear and disappear.

Robert Swinston was named a Trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust in 2009, and joined the Trust's staff as Director of Choreography in 2012, following thirty-one years with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). Swinston joined the Company in August 1980 and became Assistant to the Choreographer in July 1992. Following Cunningham's death in July 2009, he was named Director of Choreography, and oversaw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Repertory Understudy Group and its work with the Cunningham Educational Outreach Program until the closure of the Company in 2011. Beginning in 1998 he oversaw many Cunningham archival reconstructions for MCDC and staged Cunningham works on other companies, including Boston Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, Rambert Dance Company, New York City Ballet, Bayerische Staatsballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. In 2003, Swinston received a "Bessie" Award for his performance in the revival of Cunningham's How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run. Swinston was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Middlebury College and The Juilliard School, where he received a BFA in Dance. In addition to MCDC, he danced with the Martha Graham Apprentice Company, the José Limón Dance Company, and with Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theatre. In January, 2013 Swinston became Artistic Director of the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) in Angers, France where he continues to share the Cunningham Legacy.

Created in 1978, the Centre national de danse contemporaine - Angers (CNDC), has dedicated itself to support contemporary choreographic creation. It has contributed to the emergence of some of our generation’s most highly regarded French choreographers, including Angelin Preljocaj, Mathilde Monnier, and Philippe Decouflé. It is also a place where research, experimentation, and artistic creation is open to many different disciplines.   Compagnie CNDC-Angers performs Swinston’s creations (the latest entitled Le Festin de l’Araignée on a musical program of the composer Albert Roussel, in collaboration with Orchestre national des Pays de la Loire), as well as his reconstructions of Cunningham’s choreography (Event, Four Walls Doubletoss Interludes, Deli Commedia Variation, Place, Inlets 2, How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run and Beach Birds). In September, 2018 the company premiered a re-staging of BIPED (1999) at the Biennale de Lyon in celebration of Merce Cunningham’s Centenary. Le Centre national de danse contemporaine - Angers is an association Loi 1901 subsidised by Culture and Communication French Minister- DRAC Pays de la Loire, Angers city, Région des Pays de la Loire and Département de Maine-et-Loire.

Merce Cunningham (April 16, 1919-July 26, 2009) is widely considered to be one of the most important choreographers of all time. His approach to performance was groundbreaking in its ideological simplicity and physical complexity: he applied the idea that “a thing is just that thing” to choreography, embracing the notion that “if the dancer dances, everything is there.” Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington, and attended the Cornish School in Seattle. There, he was introduced to the work of Martha Graham (he would later have a six year tenure as a soloist with her company) and met John Cage, who would become the greatest influence on his practice, his closest collaborator, and his life partner until Cage’s death in 1992. In 1948, Cunningham and Cage began a relationship with the famed experimental institution Black Mountain College, where in 1953 Cunningham first formed a dance company to explore his convention-breaking ideas. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (originally called Merce Cunningham and Dance Company) woul