Two masterpieces by Merce Cunningham, one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century: BIPED and How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run.

A centennial celebration of the pioneering postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham’s work with two dance performances by Centre national de danse contemporaine d’Angers under the direction of longtime Cunningham collaborator Robert Swinston.

“Modernism had taken dance where it had not been before, yet Cunningham took it further” – The New York Times

Merce Cunningham, one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, was a many-sided artist. He was a dance-maker, a fierce collaborator, a chance taker, a boundless innovator, a film producer, and a teacher. During his 70 years of creative practice, Cunningham’s exploration forever changed the landscape of dance, music, and contemporary art.

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The animate and inanimate meet through a fascinating intersection of enthralling choreography and motion-capture technology. The décor for BIPED, from 1999, is an exploration of the possibilities of animation technology and 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. The live performers dance between projections of these animated images, as well as abstract patterns (vertical and horizontal lines, dots, clusters).

The music by Gavin Bryars, also called BIPED, is partly recorded and partly played live on acoustic instruments by Bryars and his ensemble. Suzanne Gallo’s costumes use a metallic fabric that reflects light. Aaron Copp devised the lighting, dividing the stage floor into squares lit in what looks like a random sequence, as well as the curtained booths at the back of the stage that permit the dancers to appear and disappear.

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How to Pass, Kick, Fall & Run

Featuring an athletic theme, but without any specific references to games, this 1965 piece features music by Cunningham’s longtime collaborator John Cage, including stories from Silence, a Year from Monday. The choreography keeps the dancers constantly in motion, never staying in a given place for very long, with two or three things simultaneously occurring on stage at all times.

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Merce Cunningham

Even at an early age, Merce Cunningham delighted audiences with his physical and expressive abilities, and his compelling stage presence. He had a deep well of energy for performing, a passion that would develop into an unparalleled and prolific career as a choreographer.
Cunningham started his own dance company in 1953 and created hundreds of unique choreographic works. Defined by precision and complexity, Cunningham’s dances combined intense physicality with intellectual rigor. He challenged traditional ideas of dance, such as the roles of the dancers and the audience, the limitations of the stage, and the relationships between movement and beauty. Cunningham’s embrace of an expanded possibility of dance, music, and visual arts reads like a how-to for pushing the boundaries of culture for subsequent generations.

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. 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.

Gavin Bryars

Arguably the most important British post-minimalist composer, Gavin Bryars mixes classical, jazz, and modern influences in his intellectually engaging (yet still emotionally touching) music. Though his style has changed somewhat since his first major piece, 1969’s “The Sinking of the Titanic,” Bryars has remained a provocative yet accessible composer capable of working in a variety of settings.