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.