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Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 20, 2007

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred 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 © American Library Association. All rights reserved

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394401913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394401911
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joanna G. Harris on May 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a former student and long time friend of Ms. Brown and Merce Cunningham, I was moved and delighted to revisit the struggles, perseverance and creativity that went into daily life during the years Ms. Brown spent in the Cunningham Company and to understand, from her viewpoint, the inner workings of Merce's choreographic process. I learned so much and appreciate the knowledge, skill and levels of artistry, friendship and as well as travail that made those years so vital. Thanks, CB
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Format: Hardcover
The wonderful thing about this book is that it gives a very close-up view of the Cage/Cunningham world, especially in the early years of the Cunningham Dance Company. It also presents the two major figures, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, in a critical light. We see them both as the towering creative forces that the outer world knows, as well as the difficult, moody, and complicated people they really are, or were.

The book is exhausting in the way it reveals Brown's life as a dancer, and the tensions and struggles of the Company. Perhaps it could be a few pages shorter, but (in the first half of the book) the insights into the world of modern dance in general, and the NY avant-garde in the 1950's and 60's in particular is fascinating and valuable.

It's also a good example of why people should keep detailed journals.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent opportunity to examine Merce Cunningham's work. Carolyn Brown was probably his favorite dancer. She was intimately connected to Merce and John Cage. Many will come away with a more real understanding of what "chance" means to this work. This is very much a dancer's view of things. I only wonder why it took her thirty-five years to write this book. She confesses to the book deal being offered and signed almost as soon as she retired. There are telling comments on State support of the arts and on unions.
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Merce Cunningham and John Cage are two of the most significant figures in dance and music in the second half of the 20th century. Cage, who is aruguably the most influential artist of the second half of the century, has been much written about, and was himself a prolific author. Cunningham has also published influential books, and the two have been the subject of numerous documentaries. But not until now has there been an insider's view of what it was like to be an intimate part of the Cage-Cunningham inner circle, a world that included artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, composers Earl Brown, Morton Feldman, and David Tudor, and many others. Brown has written an honest, sincere account of what life was like touring the US in a VW bus with Cage at the wheel, stopping for picnics along the way. Moreover, while Brown clearly adores both Cage and Cunningham, she doesn't hesitate to provide occasionally hair-raising accounts of things said and done by these two artists that seem incongruous with the myths built up around them. In that regard, Brown renders them human in a way I have never previosuly encountered. Reading that Cage, while in his cups one night, held forth on how turned on he was by Merce, should finally set the record straight (pardon the pun) about Cage's sexuality. The book is a treasury of great anecdotes about Brown's life on the road with an astonishing group of artists, and I felt privileged to have been privy to the journey. It is also a savvy analysis of Cunningham's choreography from the perspective of someone who actually danced it. This book should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in understanding the lives and work of Cage and Cunningham.
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