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Carolyn Brown's new book 'Chance and Circumstance'

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So many Cunningham-dancer photos have that look. Shoulders down, fondu arabesque, feet pointed, straighter-than-ballet extensions of arms and legs.

For those who have the Nancy Reynolds/ Malcolm McCormick book No Fixed Points , there's a lovely photo of Viola Farber and Carolyn Brown in Summerspace (1958), with Brown again in that wonderful reclining pose, weight resting on the outside of one thigh, with the other leg extended, and with arched, pionted feet. (p.365).

On the previous page, there's one of MC himself in Untitled Solo (1953), caught in mid-air, chin pointed upwards, legs folded under his torso, right arm holding his left foot, but with the left arm arched upward -- and with a pronounced (not to say, exagerrated) Balanchinian FLEXED WRIST!

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The comments here have gotten me to order the book. When I moved into the city in 1965, it seemed like the Cunningham group were already a cultural fixture, at least downtown. I didn't know until reading about this book that they had struggled with little recognition and few bookings throughout the 50s and early 60s, and became a hit in the US only after triumphing in London in 1964. And the Cunningham studio on Sheridan Square was only a few blocks away from my walk-up. (Llincoln Kirstein, whose biography I'm reading also lived for a while a few blocks away, on Minetta Lane. But that was a generation earlier.)

There's a wonderful review by Rachel Cohen in the May 28 "Spring Books" issue of The Nation. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be on their website (www.thenation.com).

Thinking about kfw's and Paul's discussion of Cunningham-and-ballet, I note that Cohen mentions that Brown,

... llike many other Cunningham dancers, found that what supported and supplemented her work were the classical ballet classes of Margaret Craske and Antony Tudor.

She writes:

One of the great pleasures of Brown's book is the chance to live, briefly, in imagination, the life of a dancer; in her beautiful descriptions of classes and teaching, we can begin to see how a dancer forms herself in daily practice: 'ballet ... did not train the torso to twist, curve, tilt, attack percussively, or train the dancer to move various parts in isolation, nor did it t rain a dancre to fall and recover from a fall in a variety of ways. Cunningham's own classes attempt to teach all these moves."

Brown has written elsewhere about the experience of working without music:

"In his classes in composition [Merce] gives problems relating to time awareness. For example: make three phrases and do them in one minute. Do the same three phrases in two minutes. Do the same three phrases in 30 seconds." The dancers could realiably reheearse a fifteen-minute piece to within an accuracy of ten seconds. "the muscular memory has a built-in time sense," she explained. "It can go awry, of course. But it can be spectacularly accurate when developed."

This is remarkable to me, considering that my own muscle memory is very dependent on the piano, thank you, and cas a hard time remembering a simple tendu combination at the barre from one side (facing the mirror) to the next (not facing the mirror).

Although she's not a ballet dancer, I'm counting on Brown to give me something of the sensation of what it must feel like to be in the dancer's mind and body. That's a quality that I have not really found in most ballet autobiographies: Farrell and Kirkland included.

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I just finished reading Brown's book, and found it fascinating for a number of reasons. She kept a detailed journal all the years she was with Cunningham, and wrote extensively to her mother, a dancer and therefore a knowledgeable and interested correspondent, who kept all the letters. She quotes extensively from these, so much of what is in the book is what she thought and felt at the time it was occurring.

It is full of profiles of the most amazing collection of people: Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Peggy Guggenheim, Pierre Boulez, Marcel Duchamp, and of course John Cage, whom she loved, and Merce himself with whom she had a very complicated, and to me surprising relationship. For young dancers today, it will give a realistic sense of what it was like to be a pioneer in a very exciting period of dance in this country.

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