The Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) has bestowed its Outstanding Book Award of 2020 on Carrie Noland, professor of French and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at UCI, for her book Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary (University of Chicago Press, 2019).
The Association for Theatre in Higher Education, a major organization in the U.S. for theatre and performance studies, presents this annual book award to recognize a study’s potential to interrupt, change or challenge theatre practice, pedagogy and/or scholarship. In Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary, Noland brings new insight to one of the most influential choreographers of the twentieth century. By utilizing a rich and previously unseen archive that includes photographs, film, unpublished writings and personal interviews, she broadens our understanding of his legacy.
Cunningham is most known for introducing chance to dance, often using the roll of the dice and other “chance” procedures to challenge traditional concepts of dance, the limitations of the stage, and the relationship between dance, music and visual arts. In a career spanning 70 years, he was a dancer, choreographer, writer, teacher, innovator, collaborator and even a film producer. The book contains chapters on his precocious adoption of media technologies (photography, film, video and computer programming) and sheds new light on his theatrical approach to the complexity of human relationships.
Noland has a personal connection to the choreographer, whose studio was in the same Greenwich Village building as her childhood home – the Westbeth Artist Housing. She even took classes at his studio during her adolescence.
“The award from ATHE has special significance to me for a number of reasons, both personal and professional. My argument in the book draws from my early years in dance, as well as my mother's participation in the 1970s performance scene,” Noland said. “Cunningham revolutionized the dance world; he drew on lessons of the European avant-garde to help create, along with John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, many of the innovations we associate with the most cutting-edge artworks of today.”