In November 1995 Robert Cole, Director of U.C. Berkeley’s Cal Performances, hired Anthony De Ritis to contract and manage a 112-piece orchestra for the U.S. premiere of Ocean – the final collaboration of choreographer Merce Cunningham and his collaborator for a half-century, composer John Cage. The performances took place at the University of California, Berkeley’s Harmon Arena on April 19-20, 1996.

The ninety-minute piece comes as if in concentric circles with 15 dancers at the center, the audience around the dancers, and the large 112-piece orchestra perched high in the top bleachers surrounding the audience, encircling everyone. 

The score is based on Cage’s ideas and written by his long-time assistant Andrew Culver. Cage died before writing the musical score. In addition there is an electronic component of sea sounds composed by David Tudor, realized by Takehisa Kosugi; design and lighting are by Marsha Skinner.

“Merce Cunningham was radiant at the end. Spry at 77 and giddy as a babe, the great American choreographer stepped out and took bows all around. He smiled, then wiped a tear or two as he faced the long standing ovation that followed his Ocean danced by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the University of California at Berkeley’s Harmon Arena.

In a touching way, Ocean brings the choreographer full circle. James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake inspired Cunningham’s very first solo in 1944, when he was a principal with Martha Graham’s company, and it was also a source of inspiration for John Cage’s early and infamous forsaking of order in music. Half a century later, Joyce was again the inspiration for the last project Cunningham and Cage planned together…” 

     – Octavio Roca, San Francisco Chronicle (April 22, 1996)

“The American premiere of Ocean—this was huge, and the thing that made it possible really—well, it was a lot of different things. We had to raise some money and all that, but the daunting thing was the 112 musicians. Where are you going to get 112 musicians on our budget, which was very small? There was this PhD music student [Anthony De Ritis] with whom I became friendly, a wonderful guy who became head of the music department at Northeastern University after he graduated from here. I proposed to him, ‘Tony, could you do this orchestra? Could you get together 112 musicians for this show?’ Students, people—not a union orchestra? I won’t go into the complexity of this music, but it was very complex, very difficult. And Tony said, ‘Yes, I could do that.’ I was so thrilled.”

 –  Robert Cole, “In the Right Place at the Right Time! The Life and Times of Robert W. Cole, UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances Impresario, 1986-2009,” an oral history conducted in 2012 and 2013 by Suzanne B. Riess for Cal Performances, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.


Orchestra Contractor and Manager


November 1995 – April 1996

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