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Chance and circumstance : twenty years with Cage and Cunningham /

This long-awaited memoir is an intimate chronicle of a crucial era in modern dance: the story of Brown's own remarkable career, of the formative years of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and of the two brilliant, iconoclastic, and forward-thinking artists at its center--Merce Cunningham and John...

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Main Author: Brown, Carolyn, ballet-dancer.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
Edition: 1st ed.
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Review by Choice Review

What a book! No one could speak with more authority and sensitivity about Merce Cunningham and John Cage than Carolyn Brown. She is a member of the Cunningham Dance Foundation board of directors and has worked with the company as artistic director. Accordingly, Cunningham's voice rings through this memoir with clarity. Brown provides an in-depth examination of the amazing collaboration of Cage and Cunningham, two pioneering modernists, and her candid revelations clarify their fight for survival in an era when creativity was mushrooming. From "Beginnings," where this reviewer was hooked, through "Postscript," one will marvel at Brown's use of language and at how well organized and researched the book. She makes use of authentic voices, pictures, and remembrances, many from her diary. One sees the evolution of the Cunningham and Cage sensibility and how it manifests in the company. And Brown, herself a choreographer, captures Cunningham's extraordinary physical ability, expression, and lack of restraint as she follows the company from its early years in squalid conditions to its numerous glamorous world tours. This is a splendid journey, one lovers of the arts should not miss. Summing Up: Essential. All readers; all levels. L. K. Rosenberg Miami University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

The dancing daughter of a dancer, Brown dreamed of becoming a writer. Instead she became a principal dancer in daring and provocative choreographer Merce Cunningham's pioneering dance company. For 20 mad, glorious, and exhausting years, Brown traveled the world, performing before hostile, baffled, and ecstatic audiences. Happily, Brown never lost her literary inclination. Writing with precision and poise, and drawing on her invaluable letters and journals, Brown presents a scintillating chronicle of the John Cage-Merce Cunningham dynamic. Deeply inspired by Cage's warmth, humor, and spirit and by the austere elegance of sphinxlike Cunningham's demanding choreography, Brown gained unique insights into their use of chance as a creative force and their superlative collaboration with artist Robert Rauschenberg. Candid, compelling, and possessed of a keen critical eye and ear, Brown tells fascinating tales of New York's wildly innovative mid-twentieth-century art world, details the endless struggle to keep the cash-poor company together, discloses her own sacrifices and triumphs, and assesses the profound influence of the Cage-Cunningham aesthetic. Cage and Cunningham's mission was to change the way people look and listen, and that they did with courage, conviction, and grace. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2007 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Brown, a founding member of Merce Cunningham's dance company, began working on her memoir shortly after leaving the troupe in 1972, but it's proved worth the 30-year wait. Of course, the behind-the-scenes perspective on Cunningham's groundbreaking choreography is invaluable, but Brown's keen critical insights are enhanced by her account of Cunningham's temperamental difficulties in relating to and managing his fellow artists. She also discusses the role avant-garde composer John Cage played in the company's development, although it's the emotional roller-coaster of their friendship that proves most memorable. For many, the centerpiece of Brown's story might be found in several chapters devoted to a 1964 world tour, but there are wonderful moments sprinkled throughout, including the debut performance of Cage's landmark silent piece, 4'33" , along with humorous vignettes featuring Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning and Rudolf Nureyev. Brown writes with great candor about the emotional costs of her artistic commitment, but she can occasionally be oblique; the dissolution of her marriage to open-form composer Earle Brown nearly gets lost in the shuffle of performances (and reactions to outraged critics, many recounted in detail). Her story will become an indispensable document for anyone curious about the mid-century revolution in American art. 40 pages of photos. (Mar. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Currently the artistic consultant to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Brown traces the trajectory of her modern dance career with that organization during its crawling stages in the 1950s and 1960s, when composer John Cage was musical director and artist Robert Rauschenberg was set and costume designer. Brown documents the company's early struggles for acceptance (it was considered avant-garde), various tours, and eventual world recognition. She cites Merce Cunningham's philosophy of dance as being a "spiritual exercise in physical form" and captures the excitement of being part of something new and different (this was before both Cage and Cunningham were famous). Readers will feel as though they're on the road with the company as it grows and changes and as the modern dance world transitions from the renowned Martha Graham style. This book will appeal to modern dance buffs and memoir readers. Other works on the subject include Cunningham's The Dancer and the Dance and David Revill's The Roaring Silence: John Cage, A Life. Recommended for all libraries.-Barbara Kundanis, Addison P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A diary of the author's two decades with Merce Cunningham's company. Brown first encountered Cunningham's cutting-edge choreography while taking a two-day master class given during his 1951 cross-country tour with composer John Cage. She was living in Denver with her husband, a composer in the modern style of Schoenberg and Webern. Though she'd studied dance since age three and danced throughout her time at Wheaton College, she wasn't sure that was what she wanted to do professionally. But the newlyweds were inspired by Cage, who had studied with Schoenberg, and Cunningham, a former Martha Graham dancer. They decided to move to New York and try their bohemian luck. Brown began to take classes with Cunningham, whose choreography she describes as "spare, intractable, yet classical." The first work she learned was the seminal Suite by Chance, set to Cage's "chance experiments" in music. Although there was no money to speak of, Cunningham invited a small core of dancers to join him in the summer of 1953 at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, where a fledgling company was born. Brown toured all over the world with Cunningham, and critical reviews spread about their controversial "chance dances." Painter Robert Rauschenberg, then struggling like the rest of them, became smitten with Cunningham's work and contributed to the production of more than 20 dances before leaving the company in 1964. The next few years were lean ones, but Brown and others maintained a remarkable commitment to Cunningham's vision. Notables in the world of dance, art, music and letters walk casually through the pages of this story, although the author never grows sentimental or self-absorbed. Readers looking for gossip won't find much here--Brown worships her hero. A long-winded, year-by-year chronicle of 20 years in modern dance. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.