Performances of "STEPS" For John Cage's Centennial Year

Nancy Snyder & The Cunningham Dance Company

For the final festival day workshop at UCDC, we had decided that there should be at least two performances of John Cage’s STEPS: A Composition for a Painting to Be Performed by Individuals or Groups in order to ensure that the variability of potential outcomes could be appreciated by participants and observers. In the end, we were able to get the cooperation of American University cellist Nancy Snyder and two former Cunningham Dance Company dancers. As Kass had explained, the performers were free to approach their engagement as they chose, first creating a field of locally confined images with inked feet and then using brushes of various widths (up to 5 feet) to add washes of chosen density to overlay the smaller markings with broad, continuous pathways that were themselves subject to unpredictable irregularities. Preliminary to the use of the wide-swathed diagonals of the wash brush there would be markings created by bare feel that carried ink acquired by standing briefly in prepared trays at the paper’s edges. Of course, as is the case with the individual trajectories of the waxing and waning brush trails, there is the influence of intentionality: one “goes” from a “here” to various “theres.” The Cunningham dancers performed an improvisory duet titled Steps with Arms that was based on Changing Steps, a piece that Cunningham choreographed in 1973. Stepping out of trays of ink placed on the sides of the large paper, their feet left path-like intermittencies. One noticed that directed trajectories left a very different sort of mark than did pirouettes. Their approach to the culminating application of wide-brush washes led to a strongly colored and all-surface outcome. Lacking the training that might prepare one for the more kinetic approach of the dancers, I had decided that Nancy and I might adopt a more bounded approach in our performance, and we began by laying out angular edge areas at diagonally opposite sides of the paper. We were both somewhat concerned about the possibility of making unintended markings by falling off-balance if we attempted something virtuosic. So we agreed upon a succession of large arcs, rendered (necessarily) while moving backwards within the confines of the corner markings.

Dorothea Rockburne, Angular Movement, 2012

 

Dorothea Rockburne, Angular Movement, 2012, a performance of John Cage's STEPS: A Composition for a Painting to Be Performed by Individuals or Groups, ink, water media, copper, and mica on paper, 140 x 400 in. (356 x 1016 cm)

Dorothea Rockburne, Angular Movement, 2012, a performance of John Cage's STEPS: A Composition for a Painting to Be Performed by Individuals or Groups, ink, water media, copper, and mica on paper, 140 x 400 in. (356 x 1016 cm)

The STEPS procedure has been so designated that its combination of the physical and the imagined produces something deeply meaningful. It is not only one’s hand and arms that are engaged, but one’s whole body and mind.