Trailer for “Berlin Story - A re-imagining of Merce Cunningham's Story”


More than any other choreographer in the 20th and 21st century, Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) stands for innovation in dance. He faced resistance but never relented. His artistic approach challenged traditional notions of choreography and pushed the boundaries of what had previously been considered acceptable. He freed dance from the ballast of narrative, of expressing emotion, character or even atmosphere. Movement alone was at the core of the almost 200 works he created in the course of his long life and career: “dance for dance’s sake”. His belief that music and dance should coexist independently of each other, as equal partners, was born of his long-term collaboration with John Cage. Cunningham adapted Cage’s compositional methods to his choreographic work and believed, like Cage, that coincidences and chance were an important aspect of creating art. In some cases, he threw dice to determine which movements would be performed when or by which dancers.

Chance operations also play a significant role in his piece “Story”, which was first performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the University of California on 24 July 1963. The structure of “Story” was indeterminate:  the overall duration, the sections used, and the order of the sections all changed from one performance to the next.  The dancers could make choices about the space, time and order of their movements. The music by Toshi Ichiyanagi also gave the musicians options about instrumentation and duration of sound. Robert Rauschenberg created a new set for each performance out of materials he found in or near the theatre that day.

The archival record of Story is limited. Apart from Cunningham’s notes, there is only one recording of the piece, which was filmed in 1964. As this recording only represents one possible outcome of the indeterminate structure, it does not offer enough information to allow for a detailed reconstruction of the piece.

The Dance On Ensemble therefore worked with Daniel Squire to create a new interpretation of the piece, entitled “A re-imagining of Merce Cunningham’s Story”. For the new piece’s premiere at the Volksbühne Berlin in 2019, the artist John Bock took on Robert Rauschenberg’s role, while Rabih Mroué, Mattef Kuhlmey and Tobias Weber interpreted Toshi Ichiyanagi’s musical composition. The result, “Berlin Story”, brought to life a dance that had last been presented 55 years earlier. The premiere was followed by four further versions of “Story” in Wolfenbüttel, Paris, Amsterdam, Bonn and Hamburg. In each city, Rauschenberg’s role was taken on by a local artist.

This production is also performed as part of the mixed evening “Making Dances”, alongside “never ending (Story)”, a choreographic reply to “Story” by Mathilde Monnier.


Choreography: Merce Cunningham
Additional choreographic directions and material developed by the Dance On Ensemble under the direction of Daniel Squire.
Cast: Ty Boomershine, Emma Lewis, Gesine Moog, Miki Orihara, Tim Persent, Marco Volta
Live Music: Rabih Mroué, Mattef Kuhlmey, Tobias Weber
Artist: John Bock
Stager: Daniel Squire
Light: Patrick Lauckner/Falk Dittrich
Sound: Mattef Kuhlmey
Costume: Sophia Piepenbrock-Saitz
Assistant to the Director: Clarissa Omiecienski
Photos: Jubal Battisti
Production: Dance On/Bureau Ritter

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