Brown, Carolyn

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Brown, Carolyn


Born in Fitchburg, MA; daughter of Marion Rice (a dance instructor); married Earle Brown (a composer), 1950. Education: Wheaton College, graduated, 1950; attended the Juilliard School, 1952.


Home—Millbrook, NY.


Writer, ballet dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, educator, and performer. Merce Cunningham Dance Company, principal dancer, 1953-72, currently artistic consultant; choreographer, 1972—. State University of New York at Purchase, dean of dance, 1980-82. Worked as a dance instructor at a private school in Denver, CO. Worked as a performing member of the Jane MacLean Dance Company. Dancer in films and motion pictures, including Cage/Cunningham. Producer and director of films, including Dune Dance, 1981.


Phi Beta Kappa.


Dance Magazine award, 1970. Recipient of honorary degree from Wheaton College, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts grant (five-time recipient); John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.


Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (memoir), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Ballet Review, Dance Review Journal, and Dance Perspectives.


A respected ballet dancer, choreographer, and performer, Carolyn Brown has had a career in the arts spanning more than fifty years. She began dancing at the age of three, under her mother's encouragement, and she honed her natural abilities throughout her childhood and teen years. As a student at Wheaton College, Brown harbored no desire to become a professional dancer; instead, her goal was to become a writer. Circumstances, however, placed Brown on a different creative path. In 1950, after graduating from college, she married composer Earle Brown, who composed the scores for many of Merce Cunningham's dance projects. The couple moved to Denver where Brown became a dance and drama instructor at a small private school. It was in Denver that Brown first met Cunningham, who encouraged her interest in dance. In 1952, she moved to New York to study with Cunningham. There, she attended Juilliard, and shortly thereafter was asked by Cunningham to join his dance company. Brown spent nearly twenty years as a principal dancer with the noted Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and has also appeared with other dance troupes and in films. She has taught dance at the college level, serving as the dean of dance at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase. An independent choreographer since 1972, Brown has renewed her association with the Merce Cunningham Company and currently serves as a creative consultant for the group.

In her memoir, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham, Brown recounts her life as a dancer and her two decades with Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage, who was Cunningham's life partner and who often collaborated with Cunningham on creative projects. Relying on her personal journals, notes, correspondence, and memory, Brown describes her early association with the Cunningham Company and recounts how their collaboration evolved over the years. "Not only did Cunningham begin to create choreography suited specifically to Brown's controlled lyric style, but she danced as Merce's partner in many pieces during those years when crucial innovations were being made in American modern dance, including the incorporation of chance processes into the project of choreography," noted a biographer in the Dictionary of Modern Dance. Brown describes the artistic atmosphere of the time, notes the creative riches but financial poverty of the company, relates stories of traveling the United States and the world with the prodigiously talented company, and places her own work into the context of both the Cunningham Company and the larger world of dance and art.

"Writing with precision and poise," Brown "presents a scintillating chronicle of the John Cage-Merce Cunningham dynamic" that was a steady presence during her years in the company, noted Booklist critic Donna Seaman. Reviewer Nancy Dalva, reviewing the book in Dance Magazine, assessed it this way: "Dancers will love this book for the passion it expresses for dancing, and for the practical understanding it gives of the dancing life. Teachers, in turn, will love this book because it gives class work an ongoing reverence. The rest of us will love it for the writing and for the rich immersion in a life lived fully and joyously, tempered by a clear, unsentimental eye." Brown's story "will become an indispensable document for anyone curious about the mid-century revolution in American art," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. New York Times Book Review critic Nicholas Fox Weber mused, "if you want to learn about the era before name-brand recognition ruled the art world, when creativity was burgeoning and money was incidental, Chance and Circumstance is a splendid guide."



Brown, Carolyn, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (memoir), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

International Dictionary of Modern Dance, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Biography, summer, 2007, Nicholas Fox Weber, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 417.

Booklist, March 15, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 13.

Dance Magazine, June, 2007, Nancy Dalva, "And Then There Was Merce: Carolyn Brown's Awaited Memoir," review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 54.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2007, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 107.

Library Journal, March 1, 2007, Barbara Kundanis, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 85.

Nation, May 28, 2007, Rachel Cohe, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 22.

New Yorker, June 4, 2007, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 89.

New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2007, Nicholas Fox Weber, "Music and Dance," review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 20; April 27, 2007, Claudia la Rocca, "When Modern Dance Became More Modern Still," review of Chance and Circumstance.

Publishers Weekly, January 22, 2007, review of Chance and Circumstance, p. 178.


Random House Web site, (November 27, 2007), biography of Carolyn Brown.

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