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Merce Cunningham Living Legacy Plan


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#46 dirac

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 04:34 PM

A piece by Alma Guillermoprieto in The New York Review of Books' blog. Mostly a reminiscence and appreciation, but raising questions similar to those of Simon in the first post in this thread.

Whether he should have been allowed by his board to torch everything he worked so killingly hard to create will be debated for a long time, along with the question of why he did it. "I never saw Merce express an emotion," one of his dancers said last summer at a commemorative event at Lincoln Center, but watching him on stage it always seemed to me that he was a man capable of great fury, an emotion he used to marvelous theatrical effect but perhaps less fruitfully offstage. There were reasons to consider closing down the Merce Cunningham Dance Company following his death, to be sure: it faced a devastating economic crisis following the 2008 recession, and without the constant production of new works once Merce was gone it would have been increasingly difficult to fill a theater or get bookings. But mostly, the man who always loved challenges and difficulties was too old and frail to take charge of this new crisis himself.....



#47 dirac

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 11:05 PM

A farewell to the company by Robert Greskovic in The Wall Street Journal.

If, in the wake of MCDC's departure, companies with other backgrounds choose to acquire Cunningham's dances, they'll have a fighting chance at success if they can commit to the quiet concentration and rehearsal time suited to putting the chosen dance on stage. If not, they'll find themselves confounded by these works widely known for their presentation of independently-arrived-at movement, sound and design aspects. Ghosts of these final performances at the Armory, so pristine, alert and full of fine detail, will rise up and doom halfhearted efforts to inconsequence, a fate worse than death.

#48 miliosr

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 05:33 AM

A farewell to the company by Robert Greskovic in The Wall Street Journal.

If, in the wake of MCDC's departure, companies with other backgrounds choose to acquire Cunningham's dances, they'll have a fighting chance at success if they can commit to the quiet concentration and rehearsal time suited to putting the chosen dance on stage. If not, they'll find themselves confounded by these works widely known for their presentation of independently-arrived-at movement, sound and design aspects. Ghosts of these final performances at the Armory, so pristine, alert and full of fine detail, will rise up and doom halfhearted efforts to inconsequence, a fate worse than death.

Greskovic isolates -- correctly, in my opinion -- the problem other dance companies will have with reviving Cunningham pieces. How many companies can, "commit to the quiet concentration and rehearsal time suited to putting the chosen dance on stage?" The Cunningham technique and style is a very particular thing. Like the repertory of Antony Tudor, the repertory may require more time and singular focus than most companies are prepared to invest.

#49 Ray

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 06:15 AM

That's an understatement. It makes me very sad that no one--not even in the press, really (those who had the space to write about it, of course)--challenged this final wish in a significant way. In my opinion, it's a case of devoted followers not stepping back and looking at the bigger artistic costs to our culture. If we're lucky, some of the works will be performed by a handful of excellent modern-dance schools like Julliard (who will make the time as part of their pedagogy); but I fear that will be it--at least for those of us in the US.

#50 sandik

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 10:38 AM

...It makes me very sad that no one--not even in the press, really (those who had the space, of course)--challenged this final wish in a significant way. In my opinion, it's a case of devoted followers not stepping back and looking at the bigger artistic costs to our culture. If we're lucky, some of the works will be performed by a handful of excellent modern-dance schools like Julliard (who will make the time as part of their pedagogy); but I fear that will be it--at least for those of us in the US.


I appreciate your concern, and although I hope you're wrong, and we'll see the work performed more widely than you predict, I'm not putting any money down on this. As a tiny part of the press, I was downhearted to learn the details about Cunningham's plans, but didn't get a chance to discuss it anywhere public before it was a done deal. The more we learn about the changes in contemporary productions of historic rep (as in Doug Fullington's lectures on Petipa and Balanchine, then and now) the more the questions about identity and authenticity pile up, like airplanes over a busy terminal. Re-reading the Cunningham tributes in the Brooklyn Rail http://www.brooklynr.../2011/12/dance/ reinforced for me how distinct his work has been, and how removed from the general dance world some of his performers seem to feel. It feels like a letter from another time and another culture -- fascinating to us, but hard to integrate into our own world.

I've worked on several reconstructions in the past, when I was more of a dancer and stager and less of a critic, and I treasure every chance we have to bring some part of the past back to the stage today, but I think this work has made me more pragmatic. I don't expect that it will be a perfectly preserved artifact, but it will, if it's done right, still have enough of its fundamental identity to help us understand what things used to be like, and by extension, how things got to be what they are today. I know I will never see Cunningham's rep again in the same way I did during his life, but I still want to see what I can.

#51 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 02:05 PM



A farewell to the company by Robert Greskovic in The Wall Street Journal.

If, in the wake of MCDC's departure, companies with other backgrounds choose to acquire Cunningham's dances, they'll have a fighting chance at success if they can commit to the quiet concentration and rehearsal time suited to putting the chosen dance on stage. If not, they'll find themselves confounded by these works widely known for their presentation of independently-arrived-at movement, sound and design aspects. Ghosts of these final performances at the Armory, so pristine, alert and full of fine detail, will rise up and doom halfhearted efforts to inconsequence, a fate worse than death.

Greskovic isolates -- correctly, in my opinion -- the problem other dance companies will have with reviving Cunningham pieces. How many companies can, "commit to the quiet concentration and rehearsal time suited to putting the chosen dance on stage?" The Cunningham technique and style is a very particular thing. Like the repertory of Antony Tudor, the repertory may require more time and singular focus than most companies are prepared to invest.


That's an understatement. It makes me very sad that no one--not even in the press, really (those who had the space, of course)--challenged this final wish in a significant way. In my opinion, it's a case of devoted followers not stepping back and looking at the bigger artistic costs to our culture. If we're lucky, some of the works will be performed by a handful of excellent modern-dance schools like Julliard (who will make the time as part of their pedagogy); but I fear that will be it--at least for those of us in the US.


You might find Robert Johnson's review of the final Park Avenue Armory performances interesting in this context. It isn't the first time he's expressed his anger about the plan to disband the company:

Merce Cunningham died in 2009, but the young members of his dance company never looked fleeter or more alive than they did on New Year’s Eve, 2011, when the legendary troupe gave its farewell performance at the Park Avenue Armory. Paradoxically this leave-taking took place amid throngs of well-wishers. Although Cunningham was never commercial, there is no lack of interest in his work. So while the choreographer died of natural causes, age 90, his company had to be garroted.



#52 miliosr

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 05:53 PM

I'm sure I'll be a minority of one with this opinion but here goes: As regrettable as Cunningham's decision was and is . . . I still believe -- vehemently -- that it was his decision to make. I've always hated what happened with the Graham company. Martha Graham may have been feckless in the extreme to turn everything over to Protas but . . . that's what she wanted. It galled me to no end to have her former dancers go against her wishes by taking Protas to court. (Even worse was having one of her former dancers actually say to the press, "Who cares what Martha wanted" in the aftermath of the court case stripping Protas of the works.) And, based on what I've seen of the Graham company since Protas was booted, it is no less of a travesty under the new regime than it was under the old one -- just a different kind of travesty.

#53 kfw

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 07:17 PM

And, based on what I've seen of the Graham company since Protas was booted, it is no less of a travesty under the new regime than it was under the old one -- just a different kind of travesty.


But the Graham company had a long layoff related to those legal issues, didn't it? Isn't that a major reason why the performances are relatively weak now, that lapse in time when class wasn't being given and the dances weren't being rehearsed? Once broken, it's difficult to reforge the link. If the company hadn't been disbanded, it wouldn't have faced that problem, and the quality of its performances wouldn't have dropped off so precipitously.

I didn't see ABT in "Duets" last year, but I've seen the PBS program in which they did it in the 80's, and while I enjoy it, the dancers don't look like Cunningham's own. How could they?

I also wonder how many ballet companies are going to be willing to do Cunningham, and how often. How much of a draw will his work be? Even here on this site full of serious ballet fans, relatively few people participate on this or other modern dance threads. Perhaps the best we can hope - can "dream the impossible dream" of - is that a new or relatively unknown modern dance troupe will specialize in Cunningham, surviving on the attendance and support of Cunningham fans, and giving dancers the chance to immerse themselves in the technique.

#54 Helene

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 07:21 PM

Cunningham had ample opportunity to observe what happened to other dance companies once their founding choreographers died, and also what happened to the rep those choreographers. That includes modern and, for example, NYCB and Joffrey Ballet. Perhaps he didn't want to see the same happen to his work, frustrating that it is.

#55 kfw

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 07:45 PM

Cunningham had ample opportunity to observe what happened to other dance companies once their founding choreographers died, and also what happened to the rep those choreographers. That includes modern and, for example, NYCB and Joffrey Ballet. Perhaps he didn't want to see the same happen to his work, frustrating that it is.


And if so his attitude wasn't entirely different from Balanchine's, was it? Balanchine didn't put much faith in his dances surviving in forms he'd call his own. Reading the Time Out interviews, I'm struck too with Cunningham's lack of interest in revivals. It seems he only really took an interest when he found something he wanted to change, and if memory serves, Balanchine is also said to have been indifferent sometimes. For both men, the main thing was the new work, was in the process of creation much more than the finished product.

#56 dirac

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 10:58 PM

[
But the Graham company had a long layoff related to those legal issues, didn't it? Isn't that a major reason why the performances are relatively weak now, that lapse in time when class wasn't being given and the dances weren't being rehearsed? Once broken, it's difficult to reforge the link. If the company hadn't been disbanded, it wouldn't have faced that problem, and the quality of its performances wouldn't have dropped off so precipitously.


True. In addition,Cunningham was ninety, and like Balanchine he probably had difficulty going gently into that good night. It's a very human thing to believe (and perhaps even to hope) that your work can't survive your own extinction. And of course Balanchine gave mixed signals - sometimes he would say his works wouldn't survive, but he also took steps to preserve them. Sometimes his ballets are not well danced, but often as not they are. The closing of the Cunningham company and the school was surely precipitate. The company might have failed. It might have survived. The point is that it never had the chance.

(I would say it's possible that Graham truly didn't care - that once she ceased to dance her works ceased to have real value for her. But her dances are part of our collective cultural heritage and they were worth fighting for. It's a difficult issue, because the rights of the artist also deserve respect.)

#57 Helene

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 01:04 AM

Balanchine also felt a moral obligation to support Tanaquil Leclerq until her death through royalties on a number of his ballets.

#58 miliosr

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 04:57 AM

I also wonder how many ballet companies are going to be willing to do Cunningham, and how often. How much of a draw will his work be? Even here on this site full of serious ballet fans, relatively few people participate on this or other modern dance threads. Perhaps the best we can hope - can "dream the impossible dream" of - is that a new or relatively unknown modern dance troupe will specialize in Cunningham, surviving on the attendance and support of Cunningham fans, and giving dancers the chance to immerse themselves in the technique.

I doubt very many ballet companies will program Cunningham. The music alone will be off-putting for most of them. The truth of the matter is that Cunningham, despite his stature within critical and intellectual circles, was never a big draw. In my opinion, the farewell tour distorted the true size of his audience. A lot of people went to the shows because it was the end, much like a lot of lapsed fans tune in to the last week of a soap opera before it goes off the air.


[
But the Graham company had a long layoff related to those legal issues, didn't it? Isn't that a major reason why the performances are relatively weak now, that lapse in time when class wasn't being given and the dances weren't being rehearsed? Once broken, it's difficult to reforge the link. If the company hadn't been disbanded, it wouldn't have faced that problem, and the quality of its performances wouldn't have dropped off so precipitously.


True. In addition,Cunningham was ninety, and like Balanchine he probably had difficulty going gently into that good night. It's a very human thing to believe (and perhaps even to hope) that your work can't survive your own extinction. And of course Balanchine gave mixed signals - sometimes he would say his works wouldn't survive, but he also took steps to preserve them. Sometimes his ballets are not well danced, but often as not they are. The closing of the Cunningham company and the school was surely precipitate. The company might have failed. It might have survived. The point is that it never had the chance.

I disagree that the Graham company's problems stem from technical issues related to the layoff. If nothing else, the Graham dancers looked well-trained at the performances I've seen (although the current cross-disciplinary way of training modern dancers probably distorts the Graham repertory more than any other heritage repertory.) No, my issue with the Graham company as it exists today stems from what I see as an obvious lack of belief in the works. The dancers can't truly commit to that grand world Graham created and, so, the works never come to life (except possibly as camp.)

(I would say it's possible that Graham truly didn't care - that once she ceased to dance her works ceased to have real value for her. But her dances are part of our collective cultural heritage and they were worth fighting for. It's a difficult issue, because the rights of the artist also deserve respect.)

I would absolutely say that Graham didn't care. I'm convinced she thought the works were nothing without her so who cares what becomes of them? Her tragedy was in not pulling the plug when she "retired" in 1969 and "killing" the works then.

#59 kfw

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 07:23 AM

my issue with the Graham company as it exists today stems from what I see as an obvious lack of belief in the works. The dancers can't truly commit to that grand world Graham created and, so, the works never come to life (except possibly as camp.)


That's interesting. I'm veering Posted Image , but I wonder if what you see has to do with all the irony in today's culture, and even more to do with the fact that the current company lacks the benefit of Graham's presence, lacks someone with her strong imagination and concomitant ability to inspire their own imaginations, so that they can really inhabit those characters.

#60 Paul Parish

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 12:05 PM

...It makes me very sad that no one--not even in the press, really (those who had the space, of course)--challenged this final wish in a significant way. In my opinion, it's a case of devoted followers not stepping back and looking at the bigger artistic costs to our culture. If we're lucky, some of the works will be performed by a handful of excellent modern-dance schools like Julliard (who will make the time as part of their pedagogy); but I fear that will be it--at least for those of us in the US.

I appreciate your concern, and although I hope you're wrong, and we'll see the work performed more widely than you predict, I'm not putting any money down on this. As a tiny part of the press, I was downhearted to learn the details about Cunningham's plans, but didn't get a chance to discuss it anywhere public before it was a done deal. The more we learn about the changes in contemporary productions of historic rep (as in Doug Fullington's lectures on Petipa and Balanchine, then and now) the more the questions about identity and authenticity pile up, like airplanes over a busy terminal. Re-reading the Cunningham tributes in the Brooklyn Rail http://www.brooklynr.../2011/12/dance/ reinforced for me how distinct his work has been, and how removed from the general dance world some of his performers seem to feel. It feels like a letter from another time and another culture -- fascinating to us, but hard to integrate into our own world. I've worked on several reconstructions in the past, when I was more of a dancer and stager and less of a critic, and I treasure every chance we have to bring some part of the past back to the stage today, but I think this work has made me more pragmatic. I don't expect that it will be a perfectly preserved artifact, but it will, if it's done right, still have enough of its fundamental identity to help us understand what things used to be like, and by extension, how things got to be what they are today. I know I will never see Cunningham's rep again in the same way I did during his life, but I still want to see what I can.

thanks for posting that link, Sandi -- GREAT stuff there, a treasury.


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