Merce Cunningham and the Aesthetic of Collage

Copeland, Roger

* : Collage is a practice we tend to associate most often with the visual arts, where it originated. Nevertheless, its modus operandi is readily observable in the timebased and performing arts as well. Collage is a principle organizing strategy in the work of Elizabeth LaCompte and the Wooster Group, the plays of Heiner Müeller, the theatre pieces of Robert Wilson, the choreography of Pina Bausch, the music of John Zorn, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick, and Dusan Makavejev. But the earliest—and arguably, still most influential—practitioner of collage in performance is the choreographer Merce Cunningham. Collage in fact has been central to Cunningham’s work from the very beginning. In 1952, when Cunningham choreographed a new dance to excerpts from Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry’s “Symphonie Pour un Homme Seul,” he became the first choreographer to utilize musique concrete as the score for a dance.