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Merce Cunningham’s "Beach Birds" (1991) + A Response by Sarah Michelson (FREE)

Merce Cunningham’s "Beach Birds" (1991) + A Response by Sarah Michelson (FREE)


The Merce Cunningham Trust + Sarah Michelson


10765-10799 Shore Front Pkwy, Rockaway Park, NY 11694


Saturday, August 26, 2023 - 5:45pm



The Merce Cunningham Trust + Sarah Michelson

AUGUST 26 2023








New York, NY - On Saturday, August 26, 2023 starting at 5:45pm on the sand at Beach 108th Street, the shoreline of Rockaway Beach will become the stage for a new arrangement of Merce Cunningham’s iconic work Beach Birds (1991) and a response by choreographer Sarah Michelson.

In his early 70s, the pioneering choreographer began experimenting with a new software program called LifeForms (later DanceForms). In 1991, using this software as a tool, Cunningham made Beach Birds, a dance so distinctively naturalistic and fluid as to upend expectations of how the computer technology might influence his work. In an interview at the time of its premiere, he said “I had three things in mind: one was birds, obviously, or animals or whatever, but also humans on the beach and also one of the things that I love so much on shores – the way you are looking at a rock and you go around it, and it looks different each time, as though it were alive too. Those three images are part of what I worked at.” Beach Birds had its second iteration in 1993, with the acclaimed dance film, Beach Birds for Camera, directed by Elliot Caplan. Three decades later for Beach Sessions, the work is adapted again by Merce Cunningham Trust stagers Patricia Lent and Rashaun Mitchell, who will release the birds to their natural setting - the beach - with a new cast of 11 dancers, including Christian Allen, Sienna Blaw, Sarah Cecilia Bukowski, Marc Croussillat, Arielle François, Morgan Griffin, Claude Cj Johnson, Nyah Malone, Chaery Moon, Ryan Pliss, and Hannah Straney. Original cast members Kimberly Bartosik, Michael Cole, Alan Good, David Kulick, and Carol Teitelbaum are also participating in the reconstruction of the dance.

A response by Sarah Michelson will follow, contemplating her personal relationship to Beach Birds (a dance created during her time studying at the Merce Cunningham Studio). Michelson – a prolific artist in her own right – will build upon her choreographic interests with her connection to Merce in the 90’s and his legacy as a frame.

On Friday, August 25th, at 7:30pm at the Arverne Cinema and in partnership with the Rockaway Film Festival, Beach Sessions will present a program of short dance films, all inspired by and created on beaches. The screening features Merce Cunningham’s Beach Birds for Camera (1993), as well as Maya Deren’s At Land (1944), Simone Forti’s Zuma News, LA (2013), excerpts from Carolyn Brown’s Dune Dance (1981), and Madeline Hollander’s Arena filmed at Beach Sessions 2017.

The ninth season’s programming continues to support Beach Sessions’ commitment to presenting free public performances in the Rockaways, and offering beachgoers and Rockaway locals a unique cultural experience at the City’s popular summertime retreat. Audiences are invited to come in and out as they please.

“The Rockaway Hotel and 7G Group are thrilled to support the return of Beach Sessions to the Rockaways this summer,” said Michi Jigarjian, Managing Partner and Chief Social Impact Officer of The Rockaway Hotel + Spa. “We are honored to play a part in bringing such an incredible and important commissioned dance performance to our community and continue to foster the Rockaways as a platform for innovative and experimental art”

This program is made possible by lead support from 7G Foundation with major funding provided by The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and The Merce Cunningham Trust. Additional support from the Jamaica Bay - Rockaway Parks Conservancy, with in-kind support from The Rockaway Hotel + Spa. Special thanks to NYC Parks, Rockaway Film Festival, The Supply Shop.

This arrangement of Merce Cunningham’s Beach Birds (1991) was developed in part during an artist residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. www.bacnyc.org

Beach Sessions Dance Series is curated and organized by Sasha Okshteyn. This program is co-produced with Morgan Griffin.




Live performance by Merce Cunningham & Sarah Michelson Saturday, August 26, begins at 5:45pm

On the sand at Beach 108th Street

Free and open to the public



Take the Rockaway Ferry to Beach 108th St OR

Take the “Far Rockaway” bound A train to Broad Channel, transfer to the S-shuttle three stops to Beach 105th Street. Walk down to the beach.

Landmark: Beach 106 Street Food Concession on the Boardwalk

Additional Programming:


Artist Dinner: Beach Sessions x LEV NYC

A site specific culinary experience and a site specific performance series come together to create a visceral and theatrical evening through the medium of food.
Tuesday, August 22, 7:00pm
In partnership with The Rockaway Hotel
Tickets and more information: www.therockawayhotel.com


Shorts on the Sand: An Evening of Dance Films

Films by Merce Cunningham, Carolyn Brown, Maya Deren, Simone Forti, and Madeline Hollander
Friday, August 25, 7:30pm
In partnership with the Rockaway Film Festival
Arverne Cinema, 72-02 Gouverneur Ave, Queens, NY 11692
Tickets and more information: www.rockawayfilmfestival.com




BEACH BIRDS (a new arrangement) Choreography: Merce Cunningham

Costumes: After the original design by Marsha Skinner Arranged and staged by: Patricia Lent and Rashaun Mitchell

Beach Birds (1991) by Merce Cunningham © Merce Cunningham Trust.

Beach Birds, with choreography by Merce Cunningham, music by John Cage (FOUR3 ) and design by Marsha Skinner, was first performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on June 20, 1991 at Theater 11 in Zurich, Switzerland as part of a citywide James Joyce/John Cage Festival. The dance had a cast of eleven dancers, and a duration of 28 minutes. Beach Birds remained in the repertory until 1996. It was performed nearly one hundred times in forty-two cities worldwide. In December 1991, Elliot Caplan and Cunningham adapted the dance for film. Beach Birds for Camera, a work for fourteen dancers, was first screened in Paris, on November 15, 1993.




Sarah Michelson’s work has been presented and commissioned by The Whitney Museum, MoMA, The Walker Art Center, Movement Research, The Kitchen, PS 122, Performance Space New York, LMCC’s River to River Festival, Danspace Project, David Zwirner Gallery, Bard Fisher Center, Chapter Arts Cardiff Wales, Venice Biennale, SommerSzene Salzburg, Tanz im August Berlin, ICA London, ArtCenter, ODC Theater, Kampnagel, Tanzhaus nrw, and Zuercher Theater Spektakel.

Michelson was awarded two Bessies for choreography and one for Visual Design; a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2012 Bucksbaum Award, a Doris Duke Artists Award 2012, a Guggenheim Fellowship 2009, Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award 2008, the 2006 Alpert Award in Dance, a NYFA Fellowship; and support from Creative Capital, Jerome Foundation, NYFA BUILD, Mid-Atlantic’s USAI, AMC Live Music for Dance, MAP Fund, NEFA’s National Dance Project, NPN, Sophie and Leonard Davis Fund, Yellow House Fund, and Arts International.




The Merce Cunningham Trust, established in 2000, preserves, enhances, and maintains the integrity of Cunningham’s artistic work and processes, and makes his works available to the public. The Trust looks toward a vital future, facilitates access to and experience of Cunningham’s work, trains dancers in his technique, provides stagers with vital resources to develop their craft, supports the development of audiences for his work, and fosters creativity connected to this legacy.

The Trust licenses Cunningham dances to leading dance companies and educational institutions worldwide, and partners with cultural organizations for activities that celebrate Cunningham’s artistic achievements. Trust programs also include daily Cunningham Technique® classes, Cunningham Fellowships which support the investigation and reconstruction of Cunningham work, an arts & rights management internship, and the Barbara Ensley Award established to support young BIPOC dancers launching their professional careers.

The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is the repository of decades of Cunningham’s manuscripts and records, choreographic notes and thousands of films and videotapes. The Walker Arts Center is the home of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s costumes, theatrical objects, and décor. The Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Baryshnikov Arts Center have aligned with the Trust in offering awards in Merce Cunningham’s name, supporting contemporary artists. www.mercecunningham.org




Founded in 2015, Beach Sessions Dance Series was established by Rockaway resident and performance producer Sasha Okshteyn to support a unique vision for the presentation of dance works in public spaces, and bring the popular outdoor dance festival model to New York City’s public beach. Beach Sessions’ mission is to facilitate public engagement with free arts on the peninsula, support creativity in the Rockaways, and inspire sustained investment in the natural beauty of the Rockaway shoreline.

Since its inaugural season, Beach Sessions has built a reputation for bringing New York audiences non-traditional and multi-sensory live performance programming. Each summer invited artists have the opportunity to present site-specific work on the shorelines of the beach with the ocean as their backdrop. The programming footprint spans twenty blocks, from Beach 86th to Beach 106th, and is free to the public. A popular destination, this area of the beach is dense with locals and daily beach goers. The series has introduced the Rockaways as a promising place for artmaking and cultural events.

Over the past eight editions, the series has offered a unique venue for New York choreographers like no other anywhere in the city. The site has enabled them, and challenged them, to think of their practice and processes through different lenses than would be required by a proscenium stage. Beach Sessions has presented more than 60 established to emerging choreographers to an audience of more than 6,000 people.


Merce Cunningham, "Beach Birds" (1991), Arranged for Beach Sessions 23. Dancers: Ryan Pliss, Sienna Blaw, Chaery Moon. Photo by Erik Tanner.

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