The Performance Club


This article was written on 29 Mar 2012, and is filed under Guest Writers.

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Always & Forever (But not yet.)

The original “Doubletoss.” Photo: Johan Elbers (1993).

By Aaron Mattocks

I had a hard time at the Cunningham/Cage program at B.A.C.  I can’t put my finger on it, exactly, but there was something I resisted about the whole thing.   My viewing partner was pleased as punch, loved the piece, saw all sorts of pedestrian vs. specter worlds, metaphor, the intention behind everything.  And I was happy for him.  But I sat flummoxed by my inability to get over what I thought perhaps didn’t, or shouldn’t, belong together.  Four Walls had been introduced to me by Mark Morris a few years ago.  I was visiting him at his apartment, and he was soaking in his tub when I arrived, the Cage piece blaring.  He called to me—”just listen, I’ll be out soon.”  It was fascinating.  “It’s only white keys, you know.”  I borrowed it, burned it, and have listened to it on several occasions since.  The pianist on the CD is Margaret Leng Tan.  Live, the work was played by Alexei Lubimov.  This reading of the score had much drama that I found myself unable to move beyond.  I can’t say it was Cage that prevented me entry.

I wanted to see Doubletoss, for certain, but perhaps in the way it was originally intended, and with Takehisa Kosugi’s music.  Not that I’m an absolute purist, I’d like to think I’m all for everything old being new again—when someone plays a Beethoven sonata, there are interpretations of tempo and dynamics and what not, but you can only do so much.  It’s still Beethoven.  The interpretive power—what makes countless artists record the sonatas or the symphonies over and over again—lies in bringing us to a new understanding of the same old notes on the page, somehow informing our present with everything that’s come before.  The expressive subtleties that miraculously, for years and years, weren’t ever colored in just that specific way.  This didn’t feel like that.

For the first time, I was aware of the ‘historic preservation’ feeling.  The museum of Merce.  Somehow, though Merce was gone two years, when the company performed through December 31, 2011, the work still always felt like his.  His presence was palpable and unmistakeable.  This felt like not his.

The dancing, of course, was stellar.  Always.  And probably the reconstruction (by Robert Swinston), too, was carefully considered, though what do I know about it.  But by about twenty minutes in, I was scolding myself for not having let the awe of the last Armory show on New Year’s Eve be the way I would remember this company, this work, these people.  Of course, there will always be the choreography, and I will see it elsewhere, but maybe on other dancers, and that might be a better way for me to remember.  Compare and despair, as they say.  Perhaps it was just too soon for my own good.  Other people were ready, it seems.  I felt bereft.


Aaron Mattocks is a performer and writer. He is an associate artist with Big Dance Theater, a founding member of the Collective for Dance Writing and New Media, and curator of the upcoming interview project performance ❥❥ crush. His website is

The original “Doubletoss.” Photo: Atsushi Iijima (1993)



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  2. Margaret Leng Tan
    March 30, 2012

    I found your review most thought-provoking.
    I am happy that it was my New Albion recording of Four Walls that first introduced you to the piece. (Though I would prefer that the copy in your library be the commercially released version!)

    When I first learned about the pairing of Doubletoss with Four Walls, my immediate reaction was, how can this possibly work?
    The early Four Walls (1944) is one of Cage’s most emotionally charged statements, created at a time when both Cage and Cunningham were fascinated by the disturbed mind. To combine Four Walls and Doubletoss, works from two aesthetically divergent creative periods, seemed like a peculiar exercise indeed, not to mention, a most daunting challenge.
    The choreography for Doubletoss and Kosugi’s original musical score function independently of each other, as was intended, and it works beautifully. I do agree: there is something to be said for historic preservation.

  3. Aaron Mattocks
    March 31, 2012

    Wow. Thank you Margaret for your wonderful insight and response. I’m ashamed of my CD burning. I won’t do it again.

    As you said, Kosugi’s music functions independently of Merce’s Doubletoss choreography, but it is not, in itself, at all unrelated. The dance and music compositions were created at the same time (or at a similar time, in chronology), with a particular understanding or symbiotic relationship between the two artists and the moment in which they were preparing their own scores. This is perhaps the illusion of the so-called chance procedures. It’s not just that anything can be put together, in any conceivable formulation. That would be chaotic, with some results being complete failures and others being transcendentally beautiful, all by pure coincidence. There are not, in fact, infinite possibilities. This is theater, and an artist is both setting up and, to some extent, controlling the experiment. There are very specific choices, a narrow and arguably pretty closed palette, and though a roll of the dice determines the outcome, there is still a very carefully curated selection of elements that are even possible in that particular result. So that a score written for a dance-drama in 1944 represents (again, as you so wisely state) an “aesthetically divergent” point in time, and a potentially unwilling participant with a dance created in 1993.

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