Dancers Paris Wilcox and Lisa Choules in Duets in 2003. Photographer Steve Wilson.
Dancers Paris Wilcox and Lisa Choules in Duets in 2003. Photographer Steve Wilson.

Choreography: Merce Cunningham
Music: Cage

In 1979 Merce Cunningham began choreographing a series of duets for members of his company. The first three or four of these were danced in “Event” performances at the Edinburgh Festival in August and in New York City in September and October of that year. During the following Winter, he finished the series of six and the complete work, Duets, was given for the first time at the City Center Theater, New York, in February 1980. Merce Cunningham partnered Catherine Kerr in the third of the duets.

The dances explore adagio and allegro partnering, with occasional references to the mechanics of the balletic double work. During each of the duets there is an interruption in the form of an entrance by one of the other couples, and the work ends with a brief coda in which all twelve dancers return to the stage and reprise their various movement motifs. The music consists of cassette recordings made by the father and son team of Irish drummers, Peadar and Mel Mercier, who had originally performed for John Cage in his Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, in 1979. The speed of the recordings is changed during the performance of Duets by special means devised by John Fullermann. The costumes were designed by Mark Lancaster, at the time resident designer for Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Each dancer wore a color that was picked up on the costume of a dancer in one of the other couples.

Duets entered the repertory of American Ballet Theatre during that company’s season at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, in May 1982. This production, for which Mark Lancaster designed new costumes, was staged by Chris Komar. The ABT version was included in the television program “An Evening with American Ballet Theatre,” in the WNET series “Dance in America,” first shown in February 1988.

World Premiere: February 26, 1980, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York

Kansas City Ballet Premiere: February 20, 2003, Lyric Theatre

All Repertory