Anarchic Practices in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Ocean

  • Janet Sit


In 1994, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company premiered Ocean, a large-scale production that featured a dance on a round stage with choreography by Merce Cunninghanm, orchestral music for over 100 musicians by Andrew Culver, and an electronic music component by David Tudor. The creation of the dance and music components utilized anarchic practices, such as chance operations and the I Ching, which drew upon the compositional processes and music of John Cage. In this paper, I examine Ocean through its use and employment of anarchic practices in its dance and music components, with a primary focus on the music component. My discussion begins by exploring the story behind Ocean’s creation and the influence of James Joyce and John Cage on this work. This is followed by an exploration of the multi-layered integration of anarchic practices within each component, with a detailed discussion on the construction and performance of the musical components. The discussion finishes with how the multi-layered incorporation of anarchic practices might parallel the scientific concept of synchronicity, based on the writings of Andrew Culver. In addition to published articles and documentation, I interviewed three musicians who were involved in this work: Andrew Culver, Ocean’s orchestral composer, John D. S. Adams, sound engineer and assistant to David Tudor, John King, electronic musician for David Tudor’s component, and I contacted Gordon Mumma, a close friend to David Tudor and longtime member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.