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'Roaratorio' restored, coming to Disney Hall

May 29, 2010 |  7:00 am

Fueled on Guinness, John Cage undertook one of the most daunting tasks of his hardly undaunting career when he decided to make, for West German Radio, a soundscape of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake.” He traveled around Ireland for a month, collecting sounds listed in the "Wake" and also capturing the sounds of places in the irreverently, effusively comic novel.

He got others to send him sounds from other places that Joyce referred to, and Cage spent a month in Paris mixing these together with his own readings based on the “Wake” and threw in a handful of Irish folk musicians for good measure, calling the whole thing “Roaratorio.” Finally, he enticed Merce Cunningham to create a dance, which was presented, between 1983 and 1987, live (with Cage reading, the Irish performing and the Cunningham company dancing) but five incomparably exuberant, live-enhancing times.

Only some kind of cockeyed optimist could have ever imagined “Roaratorio” revived in 2010. Cage, Cunningham and most of the Irish performers are no longer alive. But as a project of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Legacy Tour, begun after Cunningham’s death last summer, “Roaratorio” will roar anew at Walt Disney Concert Hall Friday and June 5 and 6.

To find out how this is possible, look here.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing "Roaratorio" in 1983. Credit: John Cage Trust