Magazine article American Theatre

Merce Cunningham: 1919-2009

Magazine article American Theatre

Merce Cunningham: 1919-2009

Article excerpt

Merce Cunningham was a spatial rhythmitician--he'd stab at the air unerringly with the choice of body parts that would not "make a noise" as the feet will when they stamp or land on the ground guiding the body in its return from space. His brilliance at commandeering space in an architectural manner demonstrated vividly that space itself is not as simple or benign as most choreographers make it out to be. The air (that region that for us viewers constitutes space) is difficult to affect aurally--it relies solely on the visual in order to be noticed; the aural holds no quarter there.

I drove my motorcycle out to San Francisco in 1972 to take a workshop taught by Merce and Sandra Neels. I wanted to take that workshop because of the specificity of the training--it was all about excavating body parts not unlike ballet. We worked on the initiation of motion and how that initiation is peculiar to distinct parts of the body and how those parts of the body do not disrupt the rest of the body but can serve as instigators for a series of normal and classical movement techniques.

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Merce used these isolations in really melodic really eccentric ways--like bending the torso against the back of the body almost as if the top part of the body was turned inside out with the aid of the bottom half! He was able to mechanize the functions of the body in ways that I thought were acutely compelling merely by using the body against itself. The struggle the intensity of this "againstness" made the drama and depth of his dances palpable. …

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