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Carolyn Brown
Women in Dance

Carolyn Brown

One of America’s great dancers, Carolyn Brown studied Denishawn technique as a child and later achieved dance immortality as the longtime partner of Merce Cunningham.

By Maura Keefe
Photo by John Lindquist, 1955

Carolyn Brown and Merce Cunningham

Carolyn Brown quite simply is one of the great American dancers. She performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1953 to 1972. She was in virtually every piece that Cunningham choreographed in that 20-year period, more than 40 dances.

Carolyn Brown and Merce Cunningham in Septet, 1955 (Photo: John Lindquist)

She was Cunningham’s frequent partner. Cunningham’s choreography demands speed, flexibility, intelligence, and control, as well as a great understanding of rhythm and an openness to abstraction.

Merce Cunningham and Carolyn Brown rehearsing Septet in the Bakalar Studio, 1955

In addition to Brown’s work as a dancer, she is also a teacher, writer, choreographer, filmmaker, and frequent reconstructor of Cunningham’s work.


Connection with Denishawn

Brown grew up dancing, first studying with her mother, Marion Rice. Rice studied in the late 1920s and early ‘30s with Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, founding her own company, Marion Rice’s Denishawn Dancers, in the 1940s. Brown performed as a guest artist with her mother’s company at the Pillow in 1972.

Carolyn Brown (second from left) with Barton Mumaw and Marion Rice at far right, 1972 (Photo: John Van Lund)

Interview with Brown

In this excerpt from a 2003 PillowTalk, Brown talks about working with Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and whether dance can ever really be abstract when there are people dancing and people watching.

Carolyn Brown in a PillowTalk with Maura Keefe, 2003
View Archival Record

In 2007, Brown published her memoir: Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham. That summer, she and choreographer Yvonne Rainer, who had also just released a memoir titled Feelings are Facts, participated in a PillowTalk called Modern Dance Icons.

Carolyn Brown and Yvonne Rainer in a PillowTalk with Maura Keefe, 2007
View Archival Record

PUBLISHED September 2017

Maura Keefe is a contemporary dance historian. She is a scholar in residence at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, where she writes about, lectures on, and interviews artists from around the world.Read Bio

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