R.I.P. Merce Cunningham

4 08 2009

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Here is old footage from his work, Septet.


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8 09 2009
AG

I started with the idea that first of all any kind of movement could be dancing. I didn’t express it that way at the time, but I thought that any kind of movement could be used as a dance movement, that there was no limit in that sense. Then I went on to the idea that each dance should be different. That is, what you find for each dance as movement should be different from what you had used in previous dances. What I am trying to say by hat is that in looking for movement, I would look for something I didn’t know about rather than something I did know about. Now when you find something you don’t know about or don’t know how to do, you have to find a way to do it, like a child stumbling and trying to walk, or a little colt getting up. You find that you have this awkward thing which is often interesting, and I would think, “Oh, I must practice that. There’s something there I don’t know about, some kind of life.” Then maybe something would come which I would think lively. And I would see how it worked within the structure, but, as I say, the structure is not something that pinned us down. It was something underneath that you had to play with. – Merce Cunningham, in an interview with Jacqueline Lesschaeve.

“Grace comes when the energy for the given situation is full and there is no excess.” This is a beautiful aphorism, and a revealing one. Cunningham’s excesses are invariably ones of energy, not passion….Try to imagine a vulgar Cunningham dance. It is impossibly precisely because Cunningham never risks vulgarity, or exhibitionism, or sentimentality. To praise this restraint as a manifestation of his classicism is to confuse form with content. Cunningham’s classicism is an act of concealment. It is supremely characteristic of the Cunningham aesthetic that his dancers almost never smile on stage. –Terry Teachout

Here are the best things about Merce’s dances: they are commanding and rigorous, and submit themselves readily to explication and analysis. Recollected in tranquility, they absorb all thought, all conjecture – a strange and wonderful power common to all profound works of imagination. They offer a proposition about the function of dance, and a suggestion for how to go looking at it. One might even come to think, after a long time of looking and thinking, that these dancers offer a proposition about the nature of life, and how to go through it. Yet none of this matters at the moment of seeing the dance.

In the theater, all you have to do is open your eyes and your mind, and let the dance in. Everything you need to know is in it. There is no secret. You can enjoy figuring out the dance – there is much fun and reward in this – or, when the time is ripe, you can let the dance transfigure you. How this happens is a mystery not easily expressed in words, for dances comes in at the eye. One can say this much at least. It is not something that happens with every dance of Merce’s, or at every performance, and yet there is this possibility, this necessity: you will find yourself in the dance. – Nancy Dalva

All quotes from “Reading Dance”, a compilation of essays edited by Robert Gottlieb.

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