Neil Greenberg chats about Roaratorio


merce cunningham dancers neil greenberg, louise burns“You really see people dancing. It’s especially clear that this was a concern of Merce’s. There’s a lot of humanity in this work.”

Thus choreographer Neil Greenberg remembers Roaratorio, the Merce Cunningham work dating from 1983 that will be restaged at Disney Concert Hall next weekend. 

A member of Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1979 to 1986, Greenberg belonged to Roaratorio’s original cast.

“My memory is that Merce wanted to use the music for an ‘event.’ That’s when he choreographed the jigs. He showed them to Cage who said, ‘I’d rather you make a complete piece to it,” says Greenberg, with a laugh. “You see, this was a relationship. Cage was letting Merce know that he [Merce] was not being respectful enough.”

“Merce made the piece especially for that music. It was different from the normal set up in which he would only hear the music for the first time during the live performance, letting all the indeterminacy and chance factors work their way. With Roaratorio, he knew what he was getting.”

tinguely fountain-baselGreenberg sat in on a Roaratorio rehearsal on a recent trip to NYC. “I was struck by how simple the choreographic material is. It’s walking, running, skipping. The interest to me is in how these highly specialized, specifically calibrated Cunningham bodies perform such simple material.”

“Roaratorio came at a good time for the company,” Greenberg says. “And it’s a delightful work. There’s a quartet for four women, and the women are stationary, doing repetitive movements. Now, repetitive, stationary movement is not typical of Merce. We were performing in Basel and there was a Tinguely sculpture in a plaza fountain made of mechanical pieces, vaguely anthropomorphic. Merce was delighted by this fountain and its repetitive actions. Merce saw the fountain as choreography, with each component having its own timing. I believe this shows up in the quartet.”

Roaratorio | Merce Cunningham Dance Company | Walt Disney Concert Hall | June 4 – 6

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