Spring 2012 Project: The Legacy of Merce Cunningham


Yale Dance Theater’s

Spring 2012 project:

The Legacy of Merce Cunningham


Over the course of the spring semester, rehearsal directors spanning three generations of Merce Cunningham Dance Company alumni worked with Yale Dance Theater members on the reconstruction of Cunningham dances. Directors Jennifer Goggans, Meg Harper, Patricia Lent, and Neil Greenberg staged a fifteen-minute excerpt of ROARATORIO, a dance that premiered in Lille, France in 1983, with music by John Cage. Additionally, they created a minEvent, an assembly of choreographic excerpts from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 00s.

Through these reconstructions, YDT investigated the nature of the Cunningham legacy. Our research focused on how the shifting interests and methods of a choreographer over time impact dance preservation. What are the differences and overlaps in Cunningham’s approach to choreography over a forty-year span? How did his work with dancers in the studio change over time? How might a “multi-vocal” approach that synthesizes generational knowledge posit a new model for dance reconstruction? What does legacy look like, and feel like?

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy-year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. The YDT project comes on the heels of the final performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which folded on December 31, 2011 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, with the plan for Cunningham’s work to live on exclusively through licensing activities.

YDT’s Cunningham project culminated in final performances in April 2012. The project marks YDT’s first collaboration with the Yale School of Music: directed by faculty Chris Theofanidis, YSM musicians created an original composition to accompany the minEvent.

2012 also marks the John Cage Centenary, double reason to celebrate at Yale the depth and breadth of these artists’ contribution to the art world.

YDT presented two final showings of the 2012 project on the Legacy of Merce Cunningham, on April 27th at 5 pm and 7 pm, at the John J Lee Amphitheater, Payne Whitney Gymnasium. 

About the artist

MERCE CUNNINGHAM (1919-2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy-year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. Through much of his life, he was also one of the greatest American dancers. With an artistic career distinguished by constant innovation, Cunningham expanded the frontiers not only of dance, but also of contemporary visual and performing arts. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative discipline have yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.

Of all his collaborations, Cunningham’s work with John Cage, his life partner from the 1940s until Cage’s death in 1992, had the greatest influence on his practice. Together, Cunningham and Cage proposed a number of radical innovations. The most famous and controversial of these concerned the relationship between dance and music, which they concluded may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another. The two also made extensive use of chance procedures, abandoning not only musical forms, but narrative and other conventional elements of dance composition—such as cause and effect, and climax and anticlimax. For Cunningham the subject of his dances was always dance itself.

Watch a video of Cunningham on ROARATORIO here:http://dlib.nyu.edu/merce/mwm/2010-11-01/


YDT Members Spring 2012


Caroline Andersson is from Syracuse, New York. She has studied ballet for 16 years in Syracuse, Ohio, and Mexico, along with modern and jazz. She enjoys acting, singing, baking, and running. She is a member of A Different Drum Dance Company, Proof of the Pudding, and Steppin’ Out.

Amymarie K. Bartholomew is a junior chemistry major at Yale. She’s trained with the New Haven Ballet and the Lenihan School of Irish Dance. A member of Groove Dance Company and the Yale Ballet Company, she has studied post-modern dance and performed Twyla Tharp’s Torelli and Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Advanced Dance Repertory, a Yale dance studies course. She also participated in Yale Dance Theater’s Pilot Project during spring 2011.

Nathalie Batraville is from Montreal. One of her most memorable experiences was performing and choreographing with Mosaica, one of McGill University’s dance troupes, while she was an undergraduate there. She is now in her second year of Yale’s French department’s PhD program and is excited about dancing with YDT this term, especially given her love for modern dance and for Modernism in general.

Jordan Laris Cohen trained in classical ballet for several years before being injured and forced to stop at age 15.  After many years away from dance, he was drawn back this fall by Professor Coates’ “Physics of Dance” course, and is thrilled to work with MCDC alumni and YDT.

Derek DiMartini is a Theater Studies major, class of 2013.  Although he did not start dancing until his senior year of high school, he quickly fell in love with dance’s expressivity.  He is currently a member of A Different Drum Dance Company at Yale and is an avid choreographer.

Hannah Dreitcer is a first year MDiv at Yale Divinity School, where she is preparing for ordination and indulging in her fascination with the human phenomenon of religion.  A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she began ballet in kindergarten and has been unable to stop dancing since.    

Timmia Hearn Feldman is a senior theater studies major in Morse College. Primarily a director, she writes the way she falls in love: passionately, obsessively and too often; and acts the way she drinks: not often, but then goes all the way and doesn’t remember most of it.

Molly Haig is a sophomore in Davenport and comes from Ann Arbor Michigan. She loves dancing and has been doing ballet for thirteen years. She is a member of A Different Drum Dance Company and dances at New Haven Ballet. She also enjoys drawing, reading and playing clarinet.

Juliette Jeanfreau is a second year Master of Divinity candidate from New Orleans, LA, where she trained at the Giacobbe Academy of Dance. In her undergraduate years at the University of Richmond, she was a member of University Dancers and was involved with Latin dance and step. Last year, Juliette performed in a Yale production of Chicago as well as YDT’s pilot project Eight Jelly Rolls, and she is thrilled to be a part of YDT again this spring!

Indrani Krishnan-Lukomski, May 6th 1993. I spent my first seven years in Singapore and then moved to the South of France. I was thus exposed to different dancing traditions, although it really became a component of my life in high school. I am a freshman in Jonathan-Edwards hoping to major in the Humanities.

Elena Light is a junior at Yale double majoring in French and Art History. She trained in classical ballet and modern dance at Oakley Ballet Center and attended intensive summer programs at the Oregon Ballet Theater and The Boston Conservatory. She is currently a member of Yaledancers and a student coordinator for Yale Dance Theater. She participated in Yale Dance Theater’s Pilot Project during spring 2011.

Ian Miller is a Trumbull freshman from St. Louis, Missouri. Last semester, he appeared in the Dramat’s “Tiger at the Gates” and Yale School of Drama’s “Rodeo.” He is a happy member of Shades and a potential music major, and he thanks the Lord for the incredible opportunities at Yale.

Kyra Morris (BK ’15) has been dancing since she was four years old. She studied ballet for seven years in Boston Ballet’s intensive program and modern for four years with Richard Colton at Concord Academy, where she was a member of the Dance Company. Kyra is a proud native of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sara Protasi is a fourth-year PhD student in philosophy. Her main philosophical interests are in ethics broadly construed, especially in moral psychology and the philosophy of emotions. She is also developing competencies in ancient philosophy, aesthetics, and feminism. Her main passion outside of philosophy is dance. She studied ballet, modern and contemporary dance, jazz, tango, and flamenco. At Yale she is a proud member of A Different Drum Dance Company.

Elizabeth Quander (SY ’15) is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. She studied ballet at The School of Ballet Chicago and was a member of the Studio Company. She also attended summer intensives at the School of American Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Aren Vastola (BK 2014) is a Theater Studies major focusing on dance studies. He is thrilled to be participating in Yale Dance Theater again. Aren trained in ballet, tap, and jazz dance in his hometown of Sitka, Alaska. He also studied Limón, Horton, and Graham modern techniques at several summer intensives. He is a member of A Different Drum Dance Company and Yale Ballet Company, as well as a student coordinator for Yale Dance Theater.

Cecillia Xie is a junior at Yale (Trumbull College) majoring in Economics. She began dancing with California High School’s Varsity Song (Dance) Team, competing yearly as finalists in the categories of pom and jazz at Universal Dance Association’s National Dance Team Championship in Orlando, Florida. She has also trained in ballet, modern, and hip-hop, and is currently a member of Groove Dance Company.


Chris Cho, a senior in Calhoun College currently pursuing a joint B.S./M.S. degree in biology, is excited to join the Yale Dance Theater as an understudy-researcher.  New to dance and primarily trained in classical ballet, he can’t wait to explore different dance techniques through the works of Merce Cunningham.

Rehearsal Directors

Jennifer Goggans just completed a twelve-year performing career with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company during which she originated roles in ten new works.  Goggans began dancing in her hometown of Owensboro, KY, and continued her studies at the Nutmeg Ballet in Connecticut. She received her BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase in 2000, and joined MCDC that same year. Goggans has been a faculty member of the Merce Cunningham Studio since 2005 and has taught master classes in the United States and across Europe.  During the last year of the company’s Legacy Tour, Goggans was named Assistant to the Director of Choreography and thus began teaching the Cunningham Company as well as assisting in the 2011 MCDC reconstruction of Rainforest.   In addition, she has staged Cunningham’s Cross Currents for both the Augusta Ballet and the Verb Ballet.  Goggans has performed with the Louisville Ballet, MOMIX, Chantal Yzermans, Christopher Williams, and has created costumes for Daniel Squire’s [sic], RoseAnne Spradlin’s Survive Cycle, and Tere O’Connor’s Wrought Iron Fog.

Neil Greenberg: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 1979-86; Dance By Neil Greenberg 1986 –  present; Dance faculty – Eugene Lang College, The New School of Liberal Arts (currently), UC Riverside, Purchase College and Sarah Lawrence College (previously); Dance Curator, The Kitchen 1995-99; Fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, NEA, NYFA, FCA, among other awards; “Bessie” Awards for  Not-About-AIDS-Dance (1994) and Partial View(2005); most recent projects: Really Queer Dance With Harps (2008) and(like a vase) (2010), which continue his investigation into the nature of meaning-making.  For more information: www.neilgreenberg.org.

Meg Harper, a graduate of the University of Illinois, danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1968-1977. She was on the faculty of the Cunningham Studio from 1968-2006, serving as Chairman of the Faculty (1991-1998). Ms. Harper danced with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company from 1979-1990, performing in the 1984 production of Einstein on the Beach, directed by Robert Wilson, with choreography by Ms. Childs.

In 1994, Ms. Harper was Assistant in Charge of Gesture for Mr. Wilson’s production of The Meek Girl. She has performed in Wilson’s work since 1998, most recently in Kool, an homage to the choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi Currently, she teaches Qigong at senior centers throughout the city, and Action Magic at the Village Adult Day Health Center.

Patricia Lent was a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1984-1993, and White Oak Dance Project from 1994-1996.  She has been on the faculty of the Merce Cunningham Studio since 1988, teaching technique classes and workshops, and staging work from the repertory.  Staging projects includeFabrications for Ballet de Lorraine, Scramble for Repertory Dance Theater, Duetsfor American Ballet Theatre, and Roaratorio for MCDC’s Legacy Tour.  Lent is currently the Director of Repertory Licensing for the Cunningham Dance Foundation, and a trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust.

Faculty Director

Emily Coates directs the dance studies curriculum and serves as artistic director of the World Performance Project at Yale University. She has danced with New York City Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, Twyla Tharp, and Yvonne Rainer. Her current work includes an ongoing choreographic collaboration with Burkinabe artist Lacina Coulibaly, the outcomes of which include a duet titled ICI OU AILLEURS, a group piece for Ballet Memphis which the company premiered in February 2011, and a book project currently in development.


Composer and bagpipe virtuoso Matthew Welch’s eclectic breadth of interests in Scottish bagpipe music, Balinese gamelan, minimalism, improvisation and rock converge in compositional amalgams ranging from traditional-like bagpipe tunes to electronic pieces, improvisation strategies and fully notated works  for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, orchestra and non-western instruments,  including his own New York based ensemble, Blarvuster.

Scott Petersen is a composer, performer, electronic musician and laptop improviser. His current research and work revolves around improvisational electronic music, analog electronic instrument design, experimental music programming, and multimedia installation. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Yale Music Technology Labs and serves as the Music Technology Specialist for the Department of Music at Yale University.

Garth Neustadter is an Emmy Award-Winning composer and multi-instrumentalist. He has composed feature-length scores for Warner Bros., PBS, Turner Classic Movies, and China’s CCTV. His works have been heard in diverse venues ranging from Lincoln Center to Los Angeles’ Nokia Theater.

Anne Rhodes (b. 1976) performs a variety of experimental, improvised, and classical music, and has premiered more than thirty new works over the past decade. She is a principle singer in Anthony Braxton’s Trillium Orchestra, is a founding member of the Broadcloth trio, and composes unique embroidered graphic scores. www.annerhodes.net

Still only 24 years of age, percussionist Ian Rosenbaum has developed a musical breadth far beyond his years. He made his Kennedy Center debut in 2009 and has appeared at the Norfolk, Yellow Barn and Chamber Music Northwest Festivals. Mr. Rosenbaum recently joined the faculties of the Peabody Institute’s preparatory program and Yale College and is a member of Chamber Music Society Two.

Percussionist Michael Compitello is guided by his passion to create new art through collaborations with composers, performers and artists in all mediums.  He has worked with composers Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Alejandro Viñao, and Martin Bresnick on premieres and performances of new works. From 2009 to 2010, Michael performed with the Ensemble Modern and the International Ensemble Modern Academy in Frankfurt, Germany on a Fulbright Grant from the US Department of State.

Composer and Pianist, Paul Kerekes was born in Huntington, NY.  He is currently
completing the second year of his masters degree at Yale School of Music
studying with Martin Bresnick.  His music takes inspiration from visual sources
and has been described by the NY Times as “able to create an almost tactile

Christopher Theofanidis (Faculty Director) is professor in the composition department of the Yale School of Music and has also served on the faculties of the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School.  His works have been performed by over 120 orchestras internationally, and he has written works for the San Francisco Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, and the American Ballet Theatre.


















3 thoughts on “Spring 2012 Project: The Legacy of Merce Cunningham

    • Aren Vastola

      Hello Tom,

      I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier! Yes, we will be performing the piece along with a staged mini-Event and a lecture demonstration. This will most likely be on April 27th in the John J. Lee Amphitheater at Payne Whitney Gym; I’ll be sure to keep you updated. Thank you for your interest!

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