As you probably may have heard, Merce Cunningham died Sunday. The best way, in his sleep. He was ninety years old and teaching his dance troupe until just a few months before he died. Danced with Barishnikov on his 80th birthday. Was a gentle and beautiful man.
One of the good things about living in Manhattan was the ease of seeing the best of everything. In the sixties and seventies, I often went to the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, especially to see Merce Cunningham dance. The most memorable evening was when John Cage sat at one corner of the stage drinking Dom Perignon, reading from his diary, while Cunningham danced, alone on the stage. Other times, the unusual music or the unusual stage props intrigued me. The dance was always memorable.
On the (CBC) radio program “Q” this morning. one dancer who knew him well described his technique as multi-dimensional, as if every dancer has a unique point of view, unique point of focus. This reminded me of Cezanne’s paintings, where every part of the painting is a focal point. This approach to creating creates a complex, multi-layered experience, mirroring life. Maybe some people do walk a straight line, have a direct path, but most, in my experience, don’t. Art that creates that kind of complexity and does it with the grace Cunningham created, lives on.
One of his dancers being interviewed this morning was talking about him, her feelings about his passing. she described working with him in the present tense: his is, he does, he thinks, he feels. He hasn’t died. He lives on.