miliosr

Merce Cans Senior Dancers

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/arts/dan...=3&ref=arts

Holley Farmer, Daniel Squire and Koji Mizuta, who have all performed with the company for more than a decade, were informed of the decision by Trevor Carlson, executive director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The action, which was not formally announced to the news media, comes as the company is rehearsing for its season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which will open on April 16, Mr. Cunningham’s 90th birthday.

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Ugh. These are fabulous dancers; their seniority makes them expensive, and fresh meat is more fun. This makes me remember why I quit the dance world. Everyone hides their decisions behind the artistic director's "artistic reasons"; and the paper doesn't allow any space for discussion or investigation on the part of the reporter.

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Ray writes:

Everyone hides their decisions behind the artistic director's "artistic reasons"; and the paper doesn't allow any space for discussion or investigation on the part of the reporter.

To insist that this was an ‘artistic decision’ seems a grave insult to three dancers of distinction. (Rather like those companies who announce that their layoffs are ‘performance-based,’ implying that the employees got what was coming to them, not that their employer has any problems.)

Mr. Carlson also said that Mr. Cunningham was unavailable for comment.

I don’t doubt it.

Thank you for posting this unhappy news, miliosr. I admire the forthrightness of your topic title. :sweatingbullets:

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The executive dir., Trevor Carlson, was quoted as saying the co. was not downsizing, and that it was not an economic decision, but an artistic one, made by Merce. I find this believable because, 1. the difference in salary in a small co. between new and veteran dancers is negligible, and 2. these three dancers are not "dead wood", they have been dancing well and receiving good reviews. It would therefore reflect better on the management, and Merce, if they used the economic excuse.

Of course a choreographer/artistic dir. can choose to use or not use dancers for various reasons, some of which can be very personal. That is their prerogative.

The fact that Mr. Carlson released the names of the dancers to the press, and damaged their professional reputations by announced that their contracts would not be renewed for "artistic reasons" however, I find unconscionable! :sweatingbullets:

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I haven't posted here in a very very long time but this news I felt must be replied to as I am a lifelong lover of Cunningham's technique and artistry. I find this absolutely horrendous news, not just for the brutal and callous way it was carried out in the press (yes, playing the artistic differences card is a low, low blow, not least because any response by the three dancers now comes off as sour grapes - to a more cynical mindset it could be suggested this is a deliberately calculated and effective ploy on the Carlson's part.)

But the tragedy is that Farmer, Squire and Mizuta, for me at least are the only three dancers in the current line up (apart from Julie Cunningham & sometimes Rashaun Mitchell) who dance with eye-opening originality, poetry, grace and bring something else to the table besides a technical adherance to the rigours of the Cunningham technique.

Squire's dancing I love especially, I love the fact that apart from a classically perfectly proportioned body his is an extremely difficult body yet he's discovered a whole way of movement a way of marrying technique, artistry and personal sensibility - I often think of Tourettes syndrome in the description of his dancing (not a string of profanities) but rather these spectacular percussive blasts that seem to eminate from his gut, his core - a series of steps is flavoured by this exciting, angry energy.

Farmer is just simply phenomenal, season after season whatever the line up she's the standout female star and Mizuta who I'm not as keen on as Farmer & Squire is still a lyrical beautiful technically ravishing dancer.

One of my biggest shocks of the past few years is seeing how deeply, sadly mediocre the company has become for me. There really is a generic cookie-cutter look and feel amongst the newer dancers - in truth they may be more technically secure in some cases, but something's missing, something deep, poetic and soulful.

In the recent London season I was saddened to see how lobotomized Biped had become, a work which when I first saw it with Jeannie Steele, Cedric Andrieux, Ashley Chen and Derry Swan blew my mind. Steele's fabulous first solo where she circles the stage with a loping run before standing centre-stage, legs in parallel akimbo, fists drawn to the waist as if preparing to punch - as if daring the audience to "come and have a go" passed for absolutely nothing in the hands of the dancer who took her place. Likewise Cedric Andrieux's series of turns in arabesque, the soft off-kilter nature of his line and technique, his danger and excitement are absolutely not present in the technical rock of a dancer who takes his parts in the rep now.

Read any history of the Cunningham company by former members and you'll see that sadly the treatment meted out to Squire, Farmer and Mizuta is not unique, and disappointingly does indeed have many precedents throughout the company's history - one of Carolyn Brown's most censorious criticisms of company policy was the lack of communication between Cunningham and dancers who were no longer favoured. Moreover it's not uncommon in any company modern or ballet for an AD to feel that they've come to the end of the road with certain dancers, that they've explored everything they wish to say through that dancer - it happens.

And most poignantly, or perhaps presciently in light of this news, when I saw the company last November I have to say that it was as if Farmer, Squire and Mizuta were talking a different language from the rest of the company, it was like they were playing Mozart everyone else (apart from J.Cunningham and Mitchell) were practising the scales. It was like they were dancers from a different era of the Cunningham company.

It's not true that companies such as Cunningham's have no stars - dancers like Squire, Farmer, Mizuta are merely three in a long line who have shaped and formed the Cunningham technique and company from Brown, Farber, Lloyd, Armitage, Dunn, to more recently Lent, Barrow, Finlayson, Kovich, Komar, Gafner, Steele, Chen, Andrieux - those great individual stylists and artists are essential to the progression of the Cunningham technique as a living breathing art form - contemporary dance is only vital and alive within the performer at that moment. Look at Graham's company for example, it's death happened when the stars were sacked or departed and what was left was techincal automatons approximating a technique and legend. Because the truth is that Cunningham isn't going to be around for that much longer and if the company isn't going to become a gilded shrine it needs those great dance artists of wit, flair, originality and experience to stop the company and technique from fossilizing into a monolith, a monument of the past.

I do worry about these three, to find yourself at their ages, effectively jobless, their bodies at the end of road in terms of finding another full-time job in a rep dance company, having devoted the majority of your adult professional life to the vision of one man's art is utterly terrifying. And that's the thing these three great dancers deserved better and like the previous poster said they definitely merited greater respect, consideration and honour than having their artistry impugned in a press statement. Carlson's "get out" clause of not dreaming of questioning Cunningham's reasons for termination didn't translate to respecting these three artists when it came to denigrating them. Pity, because without artists of the calibre of Farmer, Squire and Mizuto - willing to offer their lives, faith and artistry to Merce Cunningham, there would have been no Merce Cunningham.

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Thank you, Simon, for your erudite and informative post. Like LiLing, I want to place much of my scorn on Carlson's PR coarseness; Simon, however, shows us how these firings are part of a deeper pattern--one that reveals an unfortunate link b/t ballet and modern dance practices in re extreme autocracy.

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Cheers Ray,

As a quick addendum, LiLing is right regarding pay, Cunningham company's contract is available on the AGMA website and the difference between senior and new dancers in terms of pay is minimal.

What makes Carlson's statements all the more galling is that , in the Monday's With Merce podcast on the Cunningham website the installment from a month ago "Dancing with Merce" carries several interviews with Farmer, the blurb on the site introduces her as "iconic" & "amazing" which makes the denigration of her artistry in the press a month later all the more gutless.

The Cunningham company has been downsizing for a while, the ideal roster of 16 has been 14 for several years now, which has made restagings of full company works such as Ocean & Biped diminished where several dancers have had to double up parts, also a quick scan of the company schedule shows that there are only around 30 performances for the first five months of this year a dangerously low number. The month long/fortnight long block residencies at Sadlers Wells seem to be long in the past. In London for the past few years they manage maybe seven performaces over five days and never have I seen the Barbican even near full capacity, indeed the top tiers are closed.

I do sympathise, on the food chain contemporary dance companies are bottom feeders and costs which can be written off or covered for major ballet companies spell death for the mid-scale modern dance ensembles. Especially as with Cunningham where only one choreographic style is served up.

One can only speculate about the nature of the NY Times press release - it does seem brutal in the extreme in its treatment of dancers who've given over 30 years of their lives between them in service to the company, and it does have the feel of a retaliative gesture, were they given the option of leaving by their own steam? Since Farmer, Squire and Mizuta are refusing to comment we'll never know.

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I haven't posted here in a very very long time but this news I felt must be replied to as I am a lifelong lover of Cunningham's technique and artistry. I find this absolutely horrendous news, not just for the brutal and callous way it was carried out in the press (yes, playing the artistic differences card is a low, low blow, not least because any response by the three dancers now comes off as sour grapes - to a more cynical mindset it could be suggested this is a deliberately calculated and effective ploy on the Carlson's part.)

When I took an arts management seminar in 1989 at Jacob's Pillow the core seminar team was Sam Miller, then managing Pilobolus; Art Becofsky, then Executive Director of Merce Cunningham, Barbara Horgan, who, too, dealt with the aftermath when Balanchine, as you put it, "[had] come to the end of the road with certain dancers, that they've explored everything they wish to say through that dancer" for personal or professional reasons. One of the main topics was how they approached their roles. In contrast to Miller, who lived with his wife and small children in Connecticut and conducted most of his business by phone, Becofsky described, with disciple-like devotion, being on the road with the Company, and how his role and goal was to enable Merce Cunningham to do his work, whatever it took. It looks like someone with that single-minded dedication is what MC hires, and I'm not surprised to see it again, although I would have been surprised if Becofsky was still in the role: it sounded completely exhausting.

The ruthlessness of an Artistic Director was well documented in "Dancemaker".

I do sympathise, on the food chain contemporary dance companies are bottom feeders and costs which can be written off or covered for major ballet companies spell death for the mid-scale modern dance ensembles. Especially as with Cunningham where only one choreographic style is served up.

This applies to almost all small- to mid-sized ballet companies as well; I don't think there's ever been a modern dance company on the same scale as a major ballet company, and few modern companies of any size, like Compañía Nacional de Danza de España, have ever been state subsidized to the same degree as the major European and Russian companies. Those that have survived the best are those that keep their expenses low and don't strive to grow from small to medium or medium to large, with all of the overhead that entails. New York Theatre Ballet is one example.

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Since Farmer, Squire and Mizuta are refusing to comment we'll never know.

Perhaps we'll know after their contracts expire. Like others here I feel for the dancers and wish that instead of insinuating that they no longer meet Cunningham's standards, Carlson had praised them for their talent and long service. If the difference between the salary levels of junior and senior dancers is so slight, that suggests that Merce really was motivated by artistic considerations, and that he probably has his eye on new dancers he wants to make room for. Carlson could have stated or implied as much. On the other hand, people who really care about dance, including directors of other companies who might be hiring, won't be misled by the press release, and will know how good these dancers are. The dancers' reputations won't be damaged.

It is cruelly ironic that Farmer is being let go after being featured in Mondays with Merce. But the dancers knew they were entering a field where there is little job security. Would we call it autocratic for the founder and director and chief artistic force of an artistic enterprise to fire an employee who he'd hired, say, only 2 years ago? Sentiment suggests that because these senior dancers have dedicated long careers to his work, they deserve to be kept on, to be taken care of financially. That seems only decent. But for how long? And what if (through no fault of their own) they really don't any longer stimulate the choreographer's imagination when he's making new work? Isn't that part of what they were hired for? I feel bad for the dancers and I'll miss seeing Farmer, but I don't know how to answer those questions.

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I haven't posted here in a very very long time but this news I felt must be replied to as I am a lifelong lover of Cunningham's technique and artistry. I find this absolutely horrendous news, not just for the brutal and callous way it was carried out in the press (yes, playing the artistic differences card is a low, low blow, not least because any response by the three dancers now comes off as sour grapes - to a more cynical mindset it could be suggested this is a deliberately calculated and effective ploy on the Carlson's part.)

Welcome back, Simon G. Thank you for posting. The article notes that this news was not released to the press (but it doesn’t include ‘in response to press inquiries’ language, either, so it’s hard to say what happened).

Like LiLing, I want to place much of my scorn on Carlson's PR coarseness;

Ray, Carlson says that it was Cunningham’s decision, so perhaps it’s not quite fair to dump all on the PR guy, although taking the flak is a flack’s job. Dancers are artists working for artists but they are also employees and workers (union members, in this case). The union is quoted in the article as saying because the firings took place for “artistic” reasons there’s nothing they can do. I wonder if such considerations played a role.

Interesting also that the company didn’t even thank the dancers for their accomplishments and long service, as kfw notes.

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Cunningham's company has been around a long while and as implied in Helene's post, this isn't unheard of there. In the 15 years I've watched the company (a comparatively short time) there have been acrimonious departures. If my memory is correct, ironically enough, Becofsky was one of them. Helene also described Becofsky's perceived duties as an "enforcer" - Carlson is following in his footsteps.

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Thank you, dirac, for the positive feedback about the thread title. I almost didn't use that title, as I know Alexandra encourages us to use a genteel tone. But sometimes it's just hard to put a positive gloss on events.

As to Cunningham's decision itself, I find it interesting that he would cause such a disruption in the fabric of his company when (to be incredibly tactless) he will probably leave us sooner rather than later. Succession issues are always delicate ones for one choreographer dance companies and, of the major modern/postmodern/contemporary companies in the United States, his will most likely be the next to confront it (with Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown to follow.) Of all the companies that achieved some kind of reknown during the founder's lifetime, I can only think of three in the United States which have survived the founder's death and continue to perform a reasonably full schedule: Limon (since 1972), Ailey (since 1989) and Graham (since 1991, albeit with some disruptions).

To my knowledge, Limon and Ailey never experienced any major disruptions in terms of former dancers being frozen out. Whatever other difficulties they may have experienced, the former dancers were always on hand to pass on the works to the next generation(s). And so, whether the works are to your taste or not, you can still see them as living things close to the creators' intentions rather than as museum pieces.

As SimonG points out, however, the Graham company experienced severe disruptions in terms of one generation passing on its knowledge to another and, as a result, the succession was compromised. [Personally, I agree with those individuals who believe that Graham wanted the works to die with her and, therefore, that the current Graham company is heretical. But that, as they say, is a matter for another day and another thread.] The Graham people are valiantly trying to reverse the erosion but I think the results have been mixed -- at best -- so far.

Ah well, we shall have to see how Mr. Cunningham fares. It's tricky business this succession thing! :wink:

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Thank you, dirac, for the positive feedback about the thread title. I almost didn't use that title, as I know Alexandra encourages us to use a genteel tone. But sometimes it's just hard to put a positive gloss on events.

Alexandra’s quite right. But considering the bluntness of this announcement, your phrasing was all too appropriate, alas.

(Of course, one of the signs of economic hard times is the ingenious deployment of euphemisms for firing people. These days “headcount reduction” seems to be quite popular. In Britain they’ve always referred to “redundancies.” I remember Spike Milligan used to play a character whose occupation was "retired redundant.")

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Rereading my post, dirac, what I should have written was:

But sometimes it's just hard to put a positive gloss on Events. (Bahahaha -- a little Merce Cunningham humor there!)

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I do feel very strongly that the prevalent mood around the Cunningham Foundation amongst the administration is the unspoken imminence of Cunningham's age and mortality and a jostling for position for the continuance of that legacy.

The Graham analogy is sadly more apt than it first appears; in the diumverate of Carlson and Swinston Cunningham may very well have his Ron Protas.

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Like LiLing, I want to place much of my scorn on Carlson's PR coarseness;

Ray, Carlson says that it was Cunningham’s decision, so perhaps it’s not quite fair to dump all on the PR guy, although taking the flak is a flack’s job.

Carlson is not just a "PR guy"; he's the company's ED (although point taken, Leigh, about him acting as the "enforcer"). While I'm sure this decision did emanate from MC, this rhetorical buck-passing only makes things worse for the dancers' reputations.

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Since Farmer, Squire and Mizuta are refusing to comment we'll never know.

Perhaps we'll know after their contracts expire. Like others here I feel for the dancers and wish that instead of insinuating that they no longer meet Cunningham's standards, Carlson had praised them for their talent and long service. If the difference between the salary levels of junior and senior dancers is so slight, that suggests that Merce really was motivated by artistic considerations, and that he probably has his eye on new dancers he wants to make room for. Carlson could have stated or implied as much. On the other hand, people who really care about dance, including directors of other companies who might be hiring, won't be misled by the press release, and will know how good these dancers are. The dancers' reputations won't be damaged.

It is cruelly ironic that Farmer is being let go after being featured in Mondays with Merce. But the dancers knew they were entering a field where there is little job security. Would we call it autocratic for the founder and director and chief artistic force of an artistic enterprise to fire an employee who he'd hired, say, only 2 years ago? Sentiment suggests that because these senior dancers have dedicated long careers to his work, they deserve to be kept on, to be taken care of financially. That seems only decent. But for how long? And what if (through no fault of their own) they really don't any longer stimulate the choreographer's imagination when he's making new work? Isn't that part of what they were hired for? I feel bad for the dancers and I'll miss seeing Farmer, but I don't know how to answer those questions.

We're in synch, kfw, about Carlson's rhetorical missteps, although I'm less sanguine about their effects on the dancers' reputations. As far as your second 'graph, I have to disagree and say that what we know about the context just doesn't support the ambivalences you raise about the firings here. Just because the field is inherently insecure doesn't justify an AD's unstable actions. And thanks, miliosr, for pointing this out:

"To my knowledge, Limon and Ailey never experienced any major disruptions in terms of former dancers being frozen out. Whatever other difficulties they may have experienced, the former dancers were always on hand to pass on the works to the next generation(s). And so, whether the works are to your taste or not, you can still see them as living things close to the creators' intentions rather than as museum pieces."

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Here's more on the future of the Cunningham company and rep. It's from the 4/25/09 Economist (not available on-line).

Confined now to a wheelchair, Mr. Cunningham spends less time than he used to liaising with his collaaborators, and it is starting to show. The weaknesses of "Nearly Ninety" are mostly the result of decisions made by other people, which has led to concerns about what will happen to the company when Mr. Cunningham is no longer there to guide it.

Mr. Carlson says that he and the company's board have been working with Mr. Cunningham on a plan that will respect his legacy and keep as much of his work intact and available to the public as possible. "We won't follow the same unfortunate path that the Graham company followed, by any means," Mr. Carlson explains, referring to the bitter legal battle over the rights to Graham's dances after her death in 1991. The plan will be announced later in the summer.

For the moment Mr. Carlson is giving nothing away. But it's also nothing like any other single choreographer company has ever done before," he adds.

Note: I've divided this into 3 paragraphs and added the bold face type..

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Confined now to a wheelchair, Mr. Cunningham spends less time than he used to liaising with his collaaborators, and it is starting to show. The weaknesses of "Nearly Ninety" are mostly the result of decisions made by other people, which has led to concerns about what will happen to the company when Mr. Cunningham is no longer there to guide it.

Very interesting. I guess that explains the following from Macaulay in the Times recently (italics mine):

One day, when Mr. Cunningham dies, it may be dismaying to observe how these people (or their successors) govern his artistic estate. Who could keep his company going posthumously and successfully? I will say here and now that once the Master departs, I would like his company to give a world tour and then disband. Just now, however, Mr. Cunningham is alive.

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In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz (April 24, 2009), Carlson was asked about his involvement in 'Nearly Ninety' and his answer leaves little room for ambiguity. He said: "More than usual, since Merce concentrated on the choreography and we needed someone to liase between him and the artistic collaborators around the world and between him and the technical team. There are many elements in this piece, and it was important that there be one person connecting between everybody, in case a change in one element were to effect the other elements."

He was also asked about the firing of the three dancers and he gave quite a long answer. Among other things he said "I was only the messenger, Merce fired them... From my perspective, it's wonderful that at 90 Merce is still thinking about who he wants to continue working with..."

* The interview must have been conducted in English and translated into Hebrew for the article. The excerpts are my translation from the newspaper.

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In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz (April 24, 2009), Carlson was asked about his involvement in 'Nearly Ninety' and his answer leaves little room for ambiguity. He said: "More than usual, since Merce concentrated on the choreography and we needed someone to liase between him and the artistic collaborators around the world and between him and the technical team. There are many elements in this piece, and it was important that there be one person connecting between everybody, in case a change in one element were to effect the other elements."

He was also asked about the firing of the three dancers and he gave quite a long answer. Among other things he said "I was only the messenger, Merce fired them... From my perspective, it's wonderful that at 90 Merce is still thinking about who he wants to continue working with..."

* The interview must have been conducted in English and translated into Hebrew for the article. The excerpts are my translation from the newspaper.

Very telling. I'm skeptical enough about the "artistic decision" excuse; this doesn't make me like it any better. That firing to me is miles away from any sort of artistically responsible "thinking"; the more I think about who he fired, actually, the less it makes any sense--even economically. Thanks so much for translating and posting this!

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The following gives an interesting perspective on Carlson's point of view.

"I was only the messenger, Merce fired them... From my perspective, it's wonderful that at 90 Merce is still thinking about who he wants to continue working with..."

"Wonderful" is a word one doesn't often gets to hear when people talk about firing long-term associates.

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The pathos in that paradox runs through Nearly Ninety, but not all the dancers discover it. To find the freedom – and humanity – in Cunningham’s steps, the dancer has to be deeply familiar with his enormous lexicon. A 12-year veteran of the troupe, Farmer has that advantage, as does Daniel Squire, in his 11th year.

Last month, Cunningham told Farmer and Squire he wouldn’t need them any more. It was a Lear-like gesture. Someone should have taken the role of Cordelia and told the old man he was wrong

Apollinaire Scher in the Financial Times on Nearly Ninety

The most interesting and telling parallel Carlson draws in the continuation of the Cunningham legacy after his death is with Martha Graham and Ron Protas; however he's most definitely misplaced if he's alluding merely to the legal trials in 2001, the rot with Protas set in in the early 70s when Graham near death and depressed about the end of her dancing career entrusted to Protas a rank opportunist total control over her company. There was a Soviet like purging of her board, her company and anyone who was considered superfluous or counter Graham.

Carlson brings up the Protas/Graham relationship unbidden and the subtext of his growing influence along with Robert Swinston is unavoidable; like Scher's eloquent line Cunningham would seem to have his very own Regan and Goneril, an allusion one feels Scher drew intentionally.

The problem of the Cunningham legacy is prevalent, he's 90, whether he lasts another five years or ten is moot, there is a jostling for pole position, to be the torch bearer for the legend. The most egregious aspect of Carlson is his totally arrogant abnegation of himself, his strong avowal that he is nothing but a mouthpiece for a living genius, a legend and by proxy he bestows upon himself the status of demi God or at the very least cup bearer for the God. But it's false in so many respects, because he comments on the decision, "it's wonderful Merce still wants to work with new people" - the careers of three sublimely talented and gifted artists having been brutally terminated, whose combined committment to the company and Cunningham aesthetic totals almost 40 years is in the wording of Carlson a wonderful new direction.

To use in such a callous fashion a brutally joyous adjective to describe what must be horrendously painful for three artists who have given so much of their lives is an indication of just how high a regard Carlson holds himself in. To do so publically in the press how untouchable he sees himself as.

Moreover for someone who insists he's merely Cunningham's mouthpiece he does like to talk about Cunningham a great deal, in programme notes, in interviews the legacy it would seem is his and his alone - I would argue that the legacy is in the flesh, muscles and minds of the dancers.

There is a troubling parallel in the work Carlson is undertaking for Cunningham (mondays with Merce, the hiring of costumers, designers, musicians) and the work that Protas undertook with Graham. Cunningham now has Romeo Gigli, Graham had Halston, Cunningham has Mondays with Merce, in an interview with Nancy D'Alva Carlon claims part ownership of this attempt to record Cunningham for posterity, likewise in the 70s & 80s Protas sought a $1,000,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to record Graham's entire ethos and repertory on video and even went so far as to try and copyright the technique.

Because the fact is that in ensuring your position of legacy carrier you ensure your "immortality" by proxy, think Martins with Balanchine, Protas with Graham - you have carte blanche to destroy, rebuild (insert appropriate verb here) that company in your image whilst attesting that your vision is the departed genius' vision, the torch was passed to you after all, wasn't it? A few years ago there was an interview with Swinston in Dance Insider in which he spoke about how Cunningham has now entrusted the legacy of the repertory to him, Cunningham had originally intended Chris Komar, a lovely and gentle man, for this job, until his death in 1996 of course rendered this option impossible.

The thing is Cunningham does seem to have a history of being unable to terminate dancer relationships cleanly, in Carolyn Brown's Chance and Circumstance, she details the unhappy parting of Remy Charlip, Judith Dunn amongst others, but Holley Farmer in her recent Time Out NY interview attested to the unprecendented brutality of her, Squire and Mizuta's firing; an act of Lear-like hubris and cruelty.

With Mizuta, Farmer and Squire gone, so too goes the last remnants of a particularly talented and intelligent era of Cunningham dancers, those hired in the 90s. Now no dancer was hired before the start of the new Millennium, the majority with the three replacements in the last three years. I can understand that with the prevalent mood of one's mortality that fresh blood must seem incredibly important, but I think this confuses new with young. Farmer, Squire and Mizuta are dancers who reveal new aspects of Cunningham's technique afresh with every performance.

The exception of course is Robert Swinston, the designated artistic heir, who at nearly 60 has been a member of the company since 1980 and who continues to dance a repertory he is incapable of bringing any breadth, flexibility or daring to any longer. If anyone saw Cunningham himself at the end of career, where in his 70s and 80s, crippled by arthritis he would still insist of shuffling onstage and interacting with the dancers, they'll know how painful it is watching such vitality of dance scaled down to a minutaie of greatness. Cunningham at least was creating movement his body could cope with Swinston insists on dancing works such as Ocean, Biped, Split Sides works which demand a body which jumps, extends, dances; and this is the problem I have with the current crop of dancers apart from Julie Cunningham (and the three soon to be ex dancers) it's a dumbed down company. Most interchangeable, and with a couple so poor in technique you wonder if someone's having a laugh at your expense.

The other problem I have with the current state of the company is the newest choreography - Cunningham was at his greatest a man who never pandered to popular opinion, to perceived notions of what was in, what was fashionable, he explored and couldn't care less about the consequences - his latest choreography has been neat, serviceable and at times with Xover as if a very talented craftsman/dancemaker has decided to plagerise or create a dance in the style of a Cunningham piece.

Something happened around 2004, he started losing his last great personalities, there was still Mayselle Fason, Ashley Chen, Cheryl Therrien, Derry Swan, Glen Rumsay, Thomas Caley, Mandy Kirscher, - real ballsy gutsy, sexy dancers, dancers who Farmer, Mizuta & Squire were a part of. If anyone remembers those phenomenal dancers of the 80s and early to mid nineties Finlayson, Komar, Kovich, Lent, Barrow, Ogun, Gafner etc you'll know how much has been lost already by the current line up.

Put simply this is no longer a company I'd travel out my way to see, or pay top price to see: a company is its dancers and the dancers are for the most part sadly second rate and perhaps that's why the current pieces such as Views on Stage, Xover, Nearly Ninety are drawing such ambivalent or rather polite reviews - the tools, the dancers are neutered both technically and artistically - it's Cunningham Lite, a style that an opportunist can claim to make a legacy from. Certainly the dances I saw with original casts and loved deeply are shadows of their former selves in the hands of their new interpretors.

The thing is Protas was a long time coming 30 years, before his toxicity reached critical mass, and like the Carlson, Swinston he'd learned that if you don't want to be disposed of it's best to make yourself indispensible. Because everyone is aware, though they never say it in so many words, that the party really is nearly over, and getting rid of the best and most interesting guests and inviting new, younger members to attend doesn't make it a fresh, new crowd, nor does it inject new life - it just makes the end when it comes that much more of a whimper.

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Thanks, Simon, for all of the insight! I just finally read Macauley's preview, and this part caught my eye:

" I would also guess that “artistic reasons” for the sackings do exist in Mr. Cunningham’s mind. They can hardly be grievous: Ms. Farmer was evidently his favorite female dancer earlier this decade, and all three dancers performed valiantly this year. But they have probably outlived their chief usefulness to him. Having absorbed the freshness and openness of his company’s younger members and RUG apprentices, his appetite has moved on.

Genius does not keep functioning successfully without occasional ruthlessness. Within any great creative temperament there will always be a force that says, “My will be done.” Even in the 1950s and ’60s Mr. Cunningham — otherwise a genial and courteous man — often hurt dancers by not taking their feelings into consideration. Those feelings were not his business."

Here AM offers my second least-favorite excuse for bad artistic decisions: Genius Must Be Ruthless. Ruthless acts have a justifiable context, usually, often to resist institutional inertia or right some artistic wrong. But MC is not Richard Wagner, and this is 2009 not the 1850s. This is an excuse often trotted out in defense of The Great Choreographer by many critics who don't want to sully their hands with extra-aesthetic investigation. Reeks of a bad middlebrow mix of Nietzsche, Jung, and Ayn Rand. I don't buy it anymore; sometimes people exercise power just because they can.

I think, once again, that Simon is reading the politics of the situation right. Even if not--that is, even if MC did issue these decisions brutally--couldn't it be that they are BAD ones (shock and horror--the genius is making poor choices!)? And if so it's sad that Carlson et al. couldn't intervene to mitigate their brutal effects on these amazing artists (whom we know to be amazing also from the Company's own press materials).

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Here AM offers my second least-favorite excuse for bad artistic decisions: Genius Must Be Ruthless. Ruthless acts have a justifiable context, usually, often to resist institutional inertia or right some artistic wrong... sometimes people exercise power just because they can.

I think the latter is more common than the former.

Merce Cunningham can do what he wants, as can almost any epophynous company. The Mission Statement of the Cunningham Foundation is:

to support, sustain, and further the wide ranging creative activities of Merce Cunningham - choreographer, teacher, and artist - and of the Merce Cunningham Studio. This includes the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Cunningham Repertory Group, the Studio Performance Program for Young Artists, Educational Outreach, and the Merce Cunningham Archives.

Unless there is a restricted donation to any one of these entities/programs, or restricted within one of them, he takes people's money to support his work, which means his artistic decisions, regardless of how arbitrary or justified. He can be vindictive and lose our respect; if the Foundation has an endowment, those donors are stuck with the decisions, no matter how they disagree. For money spent and future money, they can disagree with their pocketbook, and fans can disagree by not buying tickets.

An institution like NYCB has a different mission. The resident genius can make the same artistic decisions, which can be accepted or denied. What Balanchine did to Suzanne Farrell when he fired her essentially for not marrying him was unconsionable, without any artistic pretext given, and that Board said "fine". If the genius doesn't like it, s/he can leave: Balanchine famously said more than once that he would leave the Company and start another little one. By that point, there would have been many people who would have funded him to do whatever he pleased.

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