Choreographer Merce Cunningham has been baffling audiences with his Events since 1964.

A Big Event 

Choreographer Merce Cunningham has been baffling audiences with his Events since 1964.

If anyone can trademark the term event, it's 83-year-old dance legend Merce Cunningham. To commemorate the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's fiftieth anniversary, the troupe is holding six one-week residencies in such cities as Munich and Oslo -- and Kansas City.

Event is one of a set of semispontaneous pieces created with nontraditional spaces in mind -- the modus operandi the company adopted in Vienna in 1964. It's been done recently at the site of a New York City exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photographs, and in Paris' Palais Royal during a citywide summer festival. It takes shape this week in the lobby of the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College.

The fact that Kansas City -- technically, Overland Park -- is one of the cities blessed by an anniversary show is significant. "It more strongly establishes that we're a national entity," says Carlsen Center director Charles Rogers. "And it promises to be one of the bigger interdisciplinary events to happen here."

Blending dance, music and the visual arts in ways that have inspired a host of subsequent performance artists has been Cunningham's claim to fame for half a century. During the upcoming shows, Interscape features scenery and costumes designed by Robert Rauschenberg and music by John Cage. David Tudor's RainForest will include Andy Warhol silver cloud pillows. Rogers says that approach is one of the reasons Cunningham's legacy will be deep and lasting.

Cunningham choreographs the company not to the music but almost in spite of it. The dancers rehearse in silence; the first time they hear the music is when they perform. "I'm a musician, and it baffles me, even troubles me a little," Rogers says. "But his work is absolutely fascinating. There is some kind of internal clock ticking."

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