A review of the Merce Cunningham
troupe's farewell by Robert Gottlieb in The New York Observer.
Ballet choreographers have it easier. The language of ballet is universal and can be handily transplanted—works by Balanchine, Ashton, Robbins, MacMillan are on view everywhere. Earlier masters have slowly gone out of fashion, but there are still Fokine and Lifar and Nijinska spottings—the Paris Opéra Ballet, for instance, continues to pretend that Lifar matters—and of course the 19th-century classics endure. But each modern master creates his or her own language, so that when he or she is gone, the work is dangerously vulnerable. Certain modern masters like Doris Humphrey have essentially vanished. The Martha Graham company keeps coming back to greater or lesser effect, but the repertory exists and the performance tradition exists—sort of. The José Limon company is still valid, with some of his repertory intact. Paul Taylor works are performed everywhere, though rarely as wonderfully as his own company performs them; they’re not an endangered species, and—thank God—Mr. Taylor is still here to protect them and add to them, and to arrange a sensible future for them. But what will happen to the Cunningham rep? And does it matter?