About Pelican (1963)
In 1963 American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) created his first choreographic venture. The performance featured three dancers, they were Rauschenberg and sculptor Per Olaf Ultvedt (both on roller skates and parachutes) and the famous Carolyn Brown on pointe. The piece was performed at the American on Wheels Skating Rink in Washington, D.C. Hardly classified as a “dance” the performance was a spontaneous, oddly drawn together, mini-happening. “Pelican is a trio for two men on roller skates and a woman in point shoes,” wrote Carolyn Brown in her biography Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham, “The men, Rauschenberg and the Swedish artist Per Olaf Ultvedt, enter the rink each kneeling on an axle between a set of bicycle wheels. Parachutes–stretched open with struts–were strapped to their backs. Like giant magical insects on the prowl, they propelled themselves along by “walking” hand over hand. When finally they stood and began to skate, the wind filled their silk parachutes and the insects were transformed into mamoth mystical birds, twirling and swooping through space.” [Chance and Circumstance, page 368]
Choreographer Julia K. Gleich studied Rauschenberg’s hand written notes and the rare footage of the original to designed space and time. Gleich’s choreography, a clashing of classical and contemporary, was then placed along side the urban sound of Verbal Graffiti (rap artist D.O.V. (David Powers) and DJ Wave (Elisha Zeitler) of Brooklyn) who mixed and performed the music live. Similar to the original, the ballet was performed in a converted ice rink. Dancers performed with music that they were hearing for the first time. Not unlike the dance collaborations of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The duration of the ballet was 24min, exactly double length of the original Pelican. The result was a performance that was at times dissonantly joined yet spontaneously fresh. Costumes by Jason Andrew, set created in collaboration with the Champlain Children’s Learning Center and the children of Rouses Point.
Special thanks to Ms. Carolyn Brown, Julie Martin, and David White of the Rauschenberg Studio for their valuable guidance and insight.
Performance at the Civic Center, Rouses Point, NY.
View an excerpt from Pelican (1963) posted by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation