Merce: Gone

The first time I saw the company, with him still dancing strong, I was 14, it was 1978, and there, at Zellerbach in Berkeley Sounddance. I leaned so far forward in my seat–drawn into the vortex of the dance–that I fell on the floor.

On paper, in description, Cunningham’s kind of dance wasn’t what I thought would move me. I was a repressedly moony teenager–the kind of girl who reads Sons and Lovers and can’t understand why Paul prefers translucent Clara to the gloomy, entangling succulent, Miriam. But it did move me, more than almost anything else–and has done for 30 years. That’s the sign of genius–to make a person alive to something that wasn’t even in her. He changed me.

Every time I’ve shown up, I’ve wondered, Will the spell have worn off? Will the dance become what I’ve always anticipated it would be: cerebral and faraway? And every time, there it startlingly is.

Click for Alastair Macaulay’s fascinating obit (did you know Cunningham started at Cornish as a theater major?) and here for a lovely video tribute (with clips from a few dances). 

The New Yorker is also offering a bounty of archived articles and reviews–by Joan Acocella, Calvin Tomkins, Alma Guillermoprieto–on its website, some of which are available to anyone and some of which you need a subscription for. If you have a print subscription, they tell me, you can sign up for the electronica free here

UPDATE: Guillermoprieto posts a short, very poignant remembrance of a Cunningham birthday party, with organic cake on paper plates, in his shabby loft.  


Carolyn Brown and Cunningham in Suite for Five. (Photo by Radford Bascombe for the Cunningham Dance Foundation. Via the New York Times).

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  1. says

    Dear Apollinaire:
    As you contemplate a post about Merce Cunningham’s passing, I thought the following might be useful, Mr. Cunningham’s awards from the National Endowment for the Arts.
    Merce Cunningham was among the first artists to receive an individual fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1966 ($5,000), the first year the NEA made grant awards. Other fellowships came in 1969 and 1971. After that time, NEA support went to the company. That support was extensive, totaling more than $6.6 million between 1984 and 2009. In addition, Merce received a National Medal of Arts in 1990, the highest honor given to artists and arts patrons by the US government and awarded by the president.
    Victoria Hutter
    Dear Victoria,
    I’m grateful–as I’m sure thousands of others are–for every dollar that went his way, and I hope the support will continue: The idea that I will never see another live Cunningham dance (after this weekend’s River to River event, at least) is heartbreaking.
    Thanks so much for writing,

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