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Merce Cans Senior Dancers


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#31 Ray

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 11:52 AM

And it is wonderful that Merce is still creative enough to want to work with new people. Carlson was emphazing the positive.


Sorry to disagree again; I'm for a healthy mix of "fresh meat" and expertise, and I don't equate a larger number of young bodies with a higher level of creativity. The firings constitute the kind of "artistic" behavior that's embarrassing to justify to non-dance-oriented friends whom I try to convert. Some find it capricious at best and anachronistically cruel at worst: "why would I want to support that? Maybe it's a form that deserves to die out." Not scientific, but real words from real people.

#32 kfw

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 02:07 PM

Simon, I can only envy your greater familiarity with the Cunningham company, and I agree that in terms of legacy the firings look counterproductive. And I've read the Farmer interview and my heart goes out to her, and I'm not defending the way the firings were handled. But when you note that relatively few people care enough to read about Merce Cunningham or even know who he is, that's basically my point. The casual reader will think Farmer and company were fired because their artistry is lacking. But there aren't too many of these people around, and people who love dance will know better.

#33 Simon G

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 02:12 PM

Hi Kfw

You just beat me to the punch, great minds.... sorry if my response to you seemed terse. I just get so p.o'd watching what's happening to a company I absolutely love:

For the benefit of everyone here's a little segment from the Holley Farmer interview with Gia Kourlas:

I was wondering how it feels for you to be performing these dances right now.
Well, I think that I have had a very hard time dancing in front of Merce since this happened simply because I realize how vulnerable I am. Like an intimacy with someone after the relationship has broken off, it doesnít feel safe. Iím very aware of not wanting to become distracted or injured, so in the studio I try to be focused to the point where Iím asking myself, ďOkay, why am I doing this right now? Iím doing this because Iím going to be performing it soon and I need to be clear and I need to be strong when the performance comes.Ē So itís the first time Iím not dancing for Merceís eyes.


#34 miliosr

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 04:40 PM

Apart from the succession issues raised in this thread, I have another question: Where will the new dances come from when Merce Cunningham dies? Are his successors just going to endlessly recycle old dances?? (Granted, Cunningham -- like George Balanchine and Paul Taylor -- has lived long enough that his body of work is big enough and substantial enough to power a company on its own.)

#35 kfw

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 05:02 PM

I just get so p.o'd watching what's happening to a company I absolutely love:

That's what I love about this site . . . passionate, knowledgeable people. :wink:

#36 Helene

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 06:48 PM

What gets me, and in light of Helene's comment is the fact that the company is putting out a great deal of mission statements, this talk of legacy - it's something that many a company has faced when the founding choreographer dies/retires. And the pattern is painfully commen - mission statements issued, recordings made, key people put in key positions with their eye on guarding the legacy - and I have to say it's BS. The legacy is in the bones, the technique, the muscular memory the individuality of the dancers who carry that legacy in the lives they've given to the choreographer.

The Mission Statement I'm talking about is a legal requirement of setting up a 501-c-3 organization, not anything the company is putting out otherwise. Most are constructed to be vague enough to allow the organization to do as it wishes, but there's still a legal requirement to comply with it. Cunningham's is more direct than most; see the Paul Taylor Foundation's for vagueness.

The legacy issue is also important to donors, especially when a company that is dedicated to the art of one person who is either elderly or ailing, and when it isn't clear that there is an institution to continue the legacy or should be. New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, etc. were all institutions for decades or centuries before the founders and/or resident geniuses died or left the company. The people who feel it is important to support Merce Cunningham's foundation in an effort to continue his legacy might not agree with you about the direction of the company -- in fact, they may be of the opinion that fresh air is what is needed, or that new things have to be tried, even if they fail, to avoid turning into a museum, -- or they may feel that time is critical to save it in any fashion, with the hope that the current administration is replaced before they kill it altogether. For other donors, supporting a genius, no matter how s/he behaves, is more important than the matter of trashing loyal, long-time dancers. Donors enable a lot of behaviors, some of the bad, and like investing anything, it's a trade-off of values.

Who knows whether if the money had dried up, he'd have gotten back in a bus with a group of dancers and start over, wheelchair and all.

#37 Simon G

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 02:57 AM

Helene,

I have no doubt that you're absolutely right, that my problems with the company would be viewed as completely wrongfooted or misplaced by the administration - and that my lone (ish) voice is inconsequential to the greater good of keeping the company moving on after Cunningham's gone.

I also think you're bang on, if the money dried up and Cunningham were able, say forty/fifty years ago, and wasn't in the process of being enshrined as a living deity; he'd have packed up the VW Bus with John Cage, David Tudor, Rauschenberg, his dancers and hit the road. Not concerned with being a legend, leaving a legacy but keeping his dance alive as a vital art living in the moment.

Can I be brutally honest? I don't think it's such a bad thing that Farmer, Squire & Mizuta won't be dancing with the company any more because the last time I saw them a few months ago they seemed so out of place. A remnant of a much better time a much better company. The new dancers went through the motions (with a few notable exceptions Julie Cunningham) not going through the motions in a perfunctory style, they were committed to "the legend" & "the legacy" that was clear; what they weren't doing was dancing.
Mizuta looked as if he was phoning his performance in or perhaps like a prize fighter who was losing in the last round but wouldn't go down however beaten up he might be; Squire just looked uncomfortable as if he was straining after something which had disappeared - he was given the unenviable task of doubling roles in the scaled down Biped & Farmer was her usual brilliant self and just looked wasted. All three were dancing in a different company. So if the Cunningham Foundation wants fresh air I say let them - though I also have to say that air is stale and rarified, the air in an hermetically sealed tomb.

What I find really nauseating is this rather obvious attempt to enshrine Cunningham while he's still very much alive. Every press statement, every programme note, every attempt to record his every move and thought for posterity such as the rather pointless, albeit pretty to look at, Monday's with Merce - has the quality of eulogy; enshrining the "living God" in a gilded tomb. The industry which has sprung up within the foundation with the intention of preserving him forever just seems to be choking the life out of his work while he's still living. It's become a money concern.

The work he's producing of late isn't that great either - though of course no one is prepared to say it, he's a legend, isn't he? Xover, Views on Stage, (Nearly Ninety - which I can't comment on because I haven't seen) were at best well-made dances, at worst a bit pretentious, a bit pointless, a bit like a pastiche of Cunningham. It's also why these "oh so hip and trendy" artistic collaborations are so twee and retro; would Cunningham in his VW bus have cared about star designers, rock stars, the unquestioning obsequiousness of acolytes? I don't think so, that was Martha Graham's bag; but Graham as idol has been toppled after her death and the Cunningham Foundation have stated that Cunningham will NOT follow the Graham model, even though they're kind of making a lot of identical moves that Graham's Foundation did in her final years. Those eponymous companies don't survive in anything other than a diminished capacity history has shown this time and time again - and the Foundation are obviously desperate to avoid Cunningham going the way of Graham, Limon, Humphreys, Hawkins et al poorly funded, occasional companies who perform sporadically in University gyms.

The other thing that's certain is that if the company is going to continue after his death it can only be with a moneyed patronage who all want a piece of the legacy pie, who all believe fervently that they're preserving a legend. Without Cunningham there can be no new work, without new work a contemporary dance company isn't contemporary - so it's vital that the last days of the master are encased in such legend; that the work begun to preserve him is started now. A great many people's longterm jobs depend on it; apart from the dancers who are on low wages, can be replaced at any time - and like Mizuta, Farmer & Squire should be under no illusion that longevity, artistry or committing their flesh, bones, blood, minds and performing lives ultimately don't count for much should they be considered counter to that legacy. Because that's what the sackings & the press statements by Carlson do - they send out a message to the dancers that they're expendable. It's the legend & the legacy that counts, just be count yourself lucky you're along for the ride.

I think that's the saddest and funniest thing about the treatment of the "Cunningham Three" as seen by the directives issued in the press by Comrade Carlson expressing the views of the Supreme Leader: they have that bizarre quality that Soviet official statements had in denouncing dissidents who had once been party members until it was discovered they were counter party, counter revolution. They've been exiled to dancers' Siberia.

Ultimately though what's happening is an alienating of Cunningham's core audience - the rock stars may be exciting, the costumes by designers glitzy, but that wasn't what Cunningham was about, he was about gorgeous technique, stunning choreography and grown-up, phenomenal dancers who devoured space with absolute abandon. And those things just aren't there for me at least, anymore. I'm sure the foundation doesn't care about my opinions in the face of some lifetime achievement donation from some foundation who's on the legacy bandwagon - but I won't be buying tickets anymore and in ten years time when those donations dry up when the novelty of legacy has given way to stagnation and museum-status, it's the longterm ticket-buyers who will be missed.

#38 bart

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 03:29 AM

Thare have been so many interesting comments on this thread. Thanks to all. Here are just two that got me thinking. Both have to do with a kind of re-invention of the company, or even a re-branding.

Can I be brutally honest? I don't think it's such a bad thing that Farmer, Squire & Mizuta won't be dancing with the company any more because the last time I saw them a few months ago they seemed so out of place. A remnant of a much better time a much better company.

And

Ultimately though what's happening is an alienating of Cunningham's core audience - the rock stars may be exciting, the costumes by designers glitzy, but that wasn't what Cunningham was about, he was about gorgeous technique, stunning choreography and grown-up, phenomenal dancers who devoured space with absolute abandon. And those things just aren't there for me at least, anymore.

Times change. Audience expectations change. So, no one really expects a company like Cunningham's to remain frozen in an aesthetic block of ice for all time. But there are clearly risks involved, as well. I don't have a personal stake in it, not having lived in New York City for a long time and therefore not having had access to the company. But I hope that those in charge -- WHOEVER they are. :wink: -- understand the possible long-term (and maybe even irrevocable) consequences of what they are doing.

#39 miliosr

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 04:21 AM

Those eponymous companies don't survive in anything other than a diminished capacity history has shown this time and time again - and the Foundation are obviously desperate to avoid Cunningham going the way of Graham, Limon, Humphreys, Hawkins et al poorly funded, occasional companies who perform sporadically in University gyms.


As a big Limon fan, I must object to the statement above as it pertains to Limon:

1) The Limon company has survived for 63 years without ever having a hiatus due to funding problems or internal strife.
2) The Limon company has survived for 37 years since the founder's death (the first modern dance company to do so) and maintains a regular performance schedule (hardly an "occasional" company.)
3) The Limon company was never an "eponymous" company. There were two choreographers (Limon, Humphrey) and, in addition, Limon presented the work of his company members (Pauline Koner, Lucas Hoving, Ruth Currier, Louis Falco).
4) The Limon company's budget is in the $1.5-$2 million range (hardly "poorly funded".)
5) The Limon company performs in many different venues, including opera houses (not just "in University gyms.")

Simon G -- If you want to argue that Merce Cunningham is a superior artist to Jose Limon, that's fine. If you want to argue that the Limon Dance Company has abdicated responsibility for maintaining the Doris Humphrey repertory, that's fine. If you want to argue that the Limon company has had trouble commissioning lasting new works in the Limon manner, that's fine. But before you get to that point, it would be nice if you demonstrated a basic understanding of what the Limon Dance Company is or is not.

#40 Simon G

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:06 AM

Those eponymous companies don't survive in anything other than a diminished capacity history has shown this time and time again - and the Foundation are obviously desperate to avoid Cunningham going the way of Graham, Limon, Humphreys, Hawkins et al poorly funded, occasional companies who perform sporadically in University gyms.


As a big Limon fan, I must object to the statement above as it pertains to Limon:

1) The Limon company has survived for 63 years without ever having a hiatus due to funding problems or internal strife.
2) The Limon company has survived for 37 years since the founder's death (the first modern dance company to do so) and maintains a regular performance schedule (hardly an "occasional" company.)
3) The Limon company was never an "eponymous" company. There were two choreographers (Limon, Humphrey) and, in addition, Limon presented the work of his company members (Pauline Koner, Lucas Hoving, Ruth Currier, Louis Falco).
4) The Limon company's budget is in the $1.5-$2 million range (hardly "poorly funded".)
5) The Limon company performs in many different venues, including opera houses (not just "in University gyms.")

Simon G -- If you want to argue that Merce Cunningham is a superior artist to Jose Limon, that's fine. If you want to argue that the Limon Dance Company has abdicated responsibility for maintaining the Doris Humphrey repertory, that's fine. If you want to argue that the Limon company has had trouble commissioning lasting new works in the Limon manner, that's fine. But before you get to that point, it would be nice if you demonstrated a basic understanding of what the Limon Dance Company is or is not.


Milosr,

I'm sorry but I think you're being a tad over-sensitive. I'm well aware of the status of Limon and the Humphrey/Weidman inflence and artistic directorship. Though it's untrue to say that Limon never underwent internal strife, it most certainly did in his growing estrangement from Humphrey and his need for independence.

I'm also very much aware of his status and that of his company I was never impugning his legacy, brilliance or lasting influence.

However, $1.5million is a fraction of the sum that the big 4 of Cunningham, Morris, Bill T Jones and Taylor operate on - one can argue the minutaie of this but the plain fact is that that isn't a sum capable of sustaining a full company will full reepertory, an active policy of commissioning new works, allowing for failure of those new works and keep a year round performance schedule of seasons in venues worthy of a company with that kind of legacy.

The international touring of the big 4 contemporary dance companies is impossible for Limon. And I'm not rubbishing Limon or the work of the company or the dancers.

In the past six months Limon as a company performed 23 times, the majority of those performances in Universities and one-off performances apart from one season of five days at the Joyce. But it is a company that relies on a dimished repertory of a few classics from a vast repertory at its disposal in order to survive.

I'm NOT saying that Limon is lesser, and I do agree that an artist of such profound and enduring legacy and status should be better represented. But contemporary dance is so far down the pecking order of funded art forms.

What I meant by my statement is that Cunningham seem to be building an enduring legend of a living God around Cunningham while he's still alive to try and ensure that his company has the clout of say a ballet company such as NYCB, or the RB who had founder choreographers of genius who shaped the art form - and in this I think it's a good idea in terms of funding. That's what Protas did with Graham which ensured she had another 20 years of money to create with after her retirement from dancing and before her death at 91. I very much doubt Cunningham has another 20 years though.

What's obvious is that the Cunningham Foundation don't want the company to end up in the model of Limon, or operating at the level it now does. That's all I was saying nothing about Limon as a creative artist - and it's true.

Limon is a name known by few, the performances of his company carrying forward his legacy are sporadic - that has nothing to do with their worth, their importance. The Foundation however obviously doesn't want Cunningham to become Limon, indeed there was a time in the 50s when Limon was considered of far greater importance than Cunningham and was a much bigger name; that's part of the "Legend" of Cunningham, he was the underdog for decades who outlasted all his competitors and achieved a level of importance and adulation greater than any of his rivals and in order to ensure that continues after his death they're creating a Superstar.

#41 miliosr

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:22 AM

Simon G, I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree . . .

#42 Simon G

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:46 AM

Simon G, I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree . . .


Miliosr, what is it that you're actually agreeing we disagree on? I actually think you'll find anything you have to say I agree with, though you think I'm saying the opposite of what I actually am.

It's the Cunningham Foundation who would look at the model you present and look at the schedule, repertory and venue list of Limon as a model they don't want Cunningham to follow.

If they would be content to have the company follow that model why then this campaign almost as if to convince that the World won't survive without Cunningham, or at the very least if the company doesn't perform at the present capacity.

Two weeks international touring of one season to London, Paris, Madrid or Sydney bringing one or two major works and one or two shorter ones costs around about the Limon company's entire budget that you quoted for a year.

That's what's at stake and what I'm talking about - I'm not talking about artistry, I'm not comparing artisitic merit/importance or debating a company's right to exist or operate in relation to another.

When I debate the Cunningham Foundation in these threads I'm talking about an industry; in terms of industry I mean much as I'd talk about Merrill Lynch, General Motors, ICI, Microsoft.

It's the economic stability of a great engine which just happens to have an artistic genius at its core powering it - and about finding renewable sustainable sources of fuel to continue powering the engine so that the machine performs at capacity once the artistic genius which set the engine going runs out.

#43 Helene

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 06:19 AM

I find it remarkable that no one will touch Cunningham's recent work and criticize it. Balanchine, for all of his choreography, was consistently criticized in his late career: nothing was ever as good as "Agon" -- 1957! -- the quality of the Stravinsky Festival ballets was such a surprise -- this after only a few years of not creating ballets -- Jerome Robbins spoke to the future with his emotional engagement, whereas Balanchine was a cold fish, and the big event of 1968 was Robbins' return, etc. etc. All of the "Wow, Chaconne/Mozartiana/Davidsbundlertanze, didn't know the old geezer still had it in him" commentary didn't stop until his final illness.

Of course, by then, for all of the arguments over legacy, and whether it would have been better in the long run artistically to let the company die with him, there was an institution, and institutions have a life of their own.

#44 bart

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 01:16 PM

At the request of several members, I've split off recent posts about the Orlando Ballet's Robert Hill and started a new thread HERE.
Orlando Ballet's Robert Hill re departing dancers:, "I'm grateful history is going away."

Please feel free to continue posting on the Cunningham situation right here.

#45 dirac

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 03:09 PM

I also posted a link to the article the day it was published in the Orlando Ballet forum.


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