Albert Evans begins and ends his ballet with sections of Quartet for Percussion. John Cage did not specify the instruments to be used for the piece and noted that it could be performed with any percussion instruments and with one or both slow movements. His notation provides the fixed rhythmic patterns but not the tunings or tonalities. Both A Room and Seven Haiku are for prepared piano, a Cage innovation. By placing objects, like screws, bolts or erasers, in the piano strings, he could obtain percussive sounds and eliminate the need to travel with a percussive ensemble. The seven pieces in Seven Haiku, which range in length from 10 to 15 seconds, are structured like the Japanese poetic form of five, seven and five syllables. Cage was very influenced by Buddhist philosophy and used "chance operations" in the composition. The notation for Seven Haiku uses measurements rather than standard musical duration indicators, with a quarter note equal to one-half inch. However, the timings of the separate sound clusters and measured silences are very precise. In contrast, the music for A Room is flowing and lyrical. It is complex rhythmically, but the listener will perceive the pulse as more constant and simple. Although it was intended to be the third section of She Is Asleep (1942), Cage’s instructions for that composition state that the three sections could be played in any order, or any could be eliminated at the performer’s discretion. Evans has integrated these three very disparate, complex works in his ballet for six dancers. Because the music had to be counted in different ways for the musicians and the dancers, Evans has said he challenged the dancers to "become the music." Evans creates original shapes, movements and groupings within the neoclassical style. He also respects Cage’s use of silence. Haiku is his first ballet for New York City Ballet.
John Cage (1912-92) was born in Los Angeles and was involved with dance as a composer and accompanist throughout his career. His concept of the prepared piano, his use of rhythmic pattern instead of pitch, and his incorporation of Eastern philosophy into his theories have had an international impact on avant-garde music. Some of his methods, such as the use of silence and the introduction of chance in composition, met with hostile reaction, but he remained in demand as a lecturer, teacher, and a performer. Cage was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978 and received the New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture in 1981. He maintained a long artistic association with the choreographer Merce Cunningham.