Cage / Cunningham / VORTEX- The Big Event

Read what people are saying about the Spring 2012 Cage / Cunningham / VORTEX event.

(Video by Tony Youngblood)

Michael Holland, Blair School of Music

Beginning in mid-March, Blair Percussion VORTEX and Artistic Director Michael Holland, led Vanderbilt University in a celebration marking the centenary of American composer John Cage and his work with choreographer Merce Cunningham. The innovation grant brings this project beyond the Blair campus to enable all of Vanderbilt to join in the festivities, manipulating recorded sound, images, film, and movement in a series of ‘happenings’—playful, spontaneous encounters that took place throughout the broader Vanderbilt campus. No experience necessary!

Former dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company—Cage’s lifelong collaborators—also led students in a series of movement workshops and performed with VORTEX on the Ingram Stage at the Blair School, April 1 at 8:00 p.m. This represented a last opportunity to see Cunningham-trained dancers, as the company will disband following their final New York performance on December 31, 2012.

Partners in the VORTEX project include: Mark Hosford, Art Department; Jonathan Rattner, Film Studies; Kelvin Amburgey and Erin Law, Vanderbilt Dance; Michael Slayton, Bill Wiggins, and Jim Lovensheimer, Blair School of Music. In addition to the Creative Campus innovation grant, co-sponsorship funding was provided by Mark Wait, Dean of the Blair School, JoEl Logiudice, Director, Office of Arts and Creative Engagement, Vanderbilt Dance, and Sandra Stahl, Associate Dean, Office of the Dean of Students.

Michael Holland serves on the music faculty of Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music where he is Artistic Director of Blair Percussion VORTEX, a group he describes as “a playground of invention, a virtual sandbox inviting actors, dancers, musicians, engineers — artists of all stripes — to ‘play’ in the sand.” VORTEX was named 2010’s “Best Next-Wave Student Music Ensemble” by Nashville Scene arts critic Russell Johnston, who closed the citation with, “‘Downtown’ ain’t just for New Yorkers anymore.”

Reflections from the Producer

When measured by audience diversity, student and staff engagement, and sheer historic significance, the Cage/Cunningham Celebration that occurred at Vanderbilt University during the spring semester of 2012 was, by all accounts, an unqualified success.  Simply with regard to student engagement, this project brought the creative aesthetic of John Cage and Merce Cunningham to hundreds of students who encountered dancers and musicians in the environments most frequented by students:  The Commons and Sarratt Student Center.

Throughout the Vanderbilt community, faculty and student collaboration brought participation from Art, Film Studies, Dance, Theater, Juggling Arts, and Music, creating myriad possibilities for engaging the student body at-large, as well as the community of Nashville.  The demographics of the Big Event on April 1st represented a diverse and record-setting audience that ranged from grannies to grade-schoolers.

Some 70 performers participated in the MusiCircus at Ingram Plaza and Lobby.  That event, along with happenings staged around the campus, brought students and the community into direct participation with sound collage and improvised movement.  The net result was a sense of connection with the performers and with Cage and Cunningham, so that inside the concert hall, the common barriers between performer and audience seemed to dissolve.

In a society dominated by corporate definitions of creative engagement, the Cage/Cunningham Celebration invited ordinary human beings to participate in something non-conventional and extraordinary.  That accomplishment is a legacy in and of itself.  But the real legacy will be revealed by the degree to which people bring creative (unusual) thinking to daily living.  John Cage was never simply “about music.”  His was a philosophy about life on a planet that is increasingly pushed to a breaking point.  Cage and Cunningham turned the arts world on its head—one performance at a time—when they dispensed with the need for narrative as the connection between music and dance.  Large events like this one break the mold and give permission for individuals to think and act in ways not previously considered.


Those interested in reading more about John Cage and Merce Cunningham will find much to peruse in the library.  Here is a partial list:

Merce Cunningham:  Fifty Years, David Vaughan, editor

Silence:  lectures and writings,  by John Cage

John Cage:  An Anthology, edited by Kostelanetz

Musicage:  John Cage muses on words, art, and music.

A Year From Monday; New lectures and writings by John Cage

Conversing with Cage, Richard Kostelanetz

Begin Again:  A biography of John Cage by Kostelznetz

John Cage’s Theater Pieces by Fetterman

The Boulez-Cage Correspondence by Pierre Boulez

John Cage:  Composed in America,  Marjorie Perloff

John Cage (Ex)plained by Kostelanetz

John Cage at 75 by Richard Fleming

The Roaring Silence:  John Cage, a Life, by David Revill

Where the Heart Beats:  John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists

By Maria Popova


John Cage:  A Music Circus

I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It