Dance Performances Featuring PHILADANCO! and New Commissioned Work by Pam Tanowitz to Coincide with Final Weeks of Jasper Johns Retrospective, Jan 14–16 & 21–23

In January, as the landmark retrospective Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror enters its final weeks, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present two weekends of performances that underscore the artist’s deep and abiding artistic connections to dance. These programs will offer immersive engagement through freshly reinterpreted choreographies closely associated with Johns’s history and through a new work created in honor of the artist that will be presented to the public for the first time. These performances will be free after museum admission and will be seen in Philadelphia only.

January 14–16, the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!) will perform Philadanco MinEvent, comprising excerpts from dances choreographed by Merce Cunningham and originally designed by Jasper Johns during his tenure as the artistic advisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1967–80). PHILADANCO! dancers will perform in newly constructed costumes fashioned after an original design by Johns. Philadanco MinEvent will be performed with live music by John King and Leyya Mona Tawil.

January 21–23, world-renowned choreographer Pam Tanowitz will present Finally Unfinished (Solo for Melissa for Jasper). Commissioned by the museum and performed by Melissa Toogood, formerly a dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, this work opens on the museum’s first floor near Lenfest Hall and continues down the cantilevered staircase in the Williams Forum, in a powerful choreography that playfully evokes Walkaround Time, the dance that Cunningham created in 1968 as an homage to Marcel Duchamp, with a set by Johns.

Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said “Jasper Johns worked as the Artistic Advisor of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for over a decade. His friendship and admiration for Cunningham was long lasting and profoundly inspiring for them both. Many of the compositional strategies of Johns’s work find echoes in the beautifully complex dances of Cunningham. It is especially fitting to be able to present PHILADANCO! performing his work for the first time in an event staged by Patricia Lent with material from a selection of dances first choreographed by Cunningham while Johns was Artistic Advisor. The brilliant Pam Tanowitz joins that conversation with an extraordinary new solo for Melissa Toogood, one of the most talented dancers of her generation.”

Kim Bears-Bailey, Artistic Director of The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!), said, “It is an honor for PHILADANCO! to perform works by the modern icon Merce Cunningham. At this time PHILADANCO! is celebrating 51 years of existence and the many partnerships we have had throughout the decades. It is befitting and historic that this is now added to our roster of shared collaborations, which merges two Philadelphia treasures together to celebrate the amazing artistry of Jasper Johns presented through the art of dance.”

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz, said of her commissioned work, “Finally Unfinished is a dance always in process, a dance inventing itself as it goes. The museum creates the frame for the dance to live and Jasper Johns’s art is the inspiration…The dance usually tells me what it wants to be. Material happens out of necessity and sometimes by mistake. I like to find ways to incorporate these moments into the design of the dance—little glimpses of humanity within the abstractness of the choreography.”

Performance Schedule

Philadanco MinEvent

Williams Forum, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Duration 20 minutes; Free after museum admission (no reservation required)

• Friday, January 14, at 4:00, 6:00, and 7:00 p.m.

• Saturday, January 15, at 12:00, 1:00, and 3:30 p.m.

• Sunday, January 16, at 12:00, 1:00, and 3:30 p.m.

PHILADANCO! dancers will perform an arrangement of choreographic material drawn from four Cunningham/Johns collaborations: Canfield (1969), Landrover (1972), Un jour ou deux (1973), and Exchange (1978). The MinEvent will be arranged and staged in the Williams Forum by Patricia Lent expressly for the PHILADANCO! dancers.

Canfield (1969): The dance’s title refers to a game of solitaire. Using chance operations to determine the sequence of movements, Cunningham assigned a word indicating a particular movement to each card in the deck, with red and black suits denoting fast and slow movements, respectively. For the original production, Robert Morris designed the set, Jasper Johns designed the costumes, and Pauline Oliveros composed the music.

Landrover (1972): Cunningham said that his image for Landrover was, “people moving in different landscapes. American, perhaps in the sense that we move in our country—across varied spaces—with varied backgrounds.” Johns designed the costumes, which were leotards and tights in various solid colors. The music was a collaborative effort by Cage, David Tudor, and Gordon Mumma.

Un jour ou deux (1973): In 1973 the Paris Festival d’Automne and the Paris International Dance Festival commissioned a new work from Merce Cunningham, to be performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. One of his epic works, the dance consisted, Cunningham wrote, “of a number of separate dance events—solos, duets, trios, quintets, and larger groups.” The music was an orchestral work by John Cage. The costumes and set, both designed by Johns, shaded from dark to light gray

Exchange (1978): Divided into three parts, Exchange began with half of the company in the first part, the other half in the second, and the entire company closing out the third. When asked about the dance, Cunningham said, “I’ve often been struck by the idea of recurrence, ideas, movements, inflections coming back in different guises, never the same; it’s always a new space and a changed moment in time. So I decided to use it in Exchange.” Johns, who designed the set and costumes, said he wanted to use “polluted” colors. The backdrop was painted in gradations of gray; the costumes were in various shades of gray with highlights of green, yellow, pink, and purple.

Choreography by Merce Cunningham
Costumes after the original design by Jasper Johns for Landrover (1972). Costumes adapted and realized by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, supported by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
Music composed and performed by John King and Leyya Mona Tawil
Choreography arranged and staged by Patricia Lent
Production consultant Davison Scandrett
Performed by The Philadelphia Dance Company / PHILADANCO!
Dancers: Kaylah Arielle, Janine Beckles, William E. Burden, Mikaela Fenton, Clarricia Golden, Jameel M. Hendricks, Victor Lewis Jr, Floyd McLean Jr, Brandi Pinnix, and Lamar Rogers
Choreography by Merce Cunningham © Merce Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved.

Philadanco MinEvent performed by PHILADANCO! made possible with support from Jessica Berwind, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Additional support provided by the Merce Cunningham Trust. Support for the musical program provided by Anthony B. Creamer III.

Finally Unfinished (Solo for Melissa for Jasper)

Williams Forum, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Duration 20 minutes; Free after museum admission (no reservation required)

• Friday, January 21, at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.

• Saturday, January 22, at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.

• Sunday, January 23, at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.

Finally Unfinished (Solo for Melissa for Jasper) (2021): Choreographer Pam Tanowitz finds multiple parallels between her process and work and that of Jasper Johns. Just as Johns uses collage, Tanowitz makes dances as a hybrid of ballet and modern dance vocabularies, creating a link between beauty and inelegance within a focused and distinct structure. Where Johns uses mixed media, Tanowitz abstracts and combines movement from multiple and contrasting movement genres, layering and texturing until expression emerges. Like Johns, Tanowitz looks to her historical connections for inspiration and kinship. Like Johns, Tanowitz reworks and reorganizes ideas, returning to and re-presenting images and movement previously explored. Through the repeated abstraction, human connection arises.

“For this dance—together with Melissa [Toogood],” Tanowitz explains, “I try to balance the line of narrative and abstraction using form and gestures to express ideas of instability, unpredictability, beauty, struggle in relation to how the past can inform the future in function and effect.”

Choreography by Pam Tanowitz, 2021
Performed by Melissa Toogood
Music by Caroline Shaw originally commissioned for the Vail Dance Festival 2019.
Costumes by Harriet & Reid
Commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Made possible with support from the Daniel W. Dietrich II Fund for Excellence in Contemporary Art, the Fisher Center at Bard courtesy of Jay Franke and David Herro, and The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

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