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Merce Cunningham

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I'm glad you liked those pages, kfw. Here's another link, to an unsually good video of Merce's Pond Way (or maybe just part of it):


At almost twenty minutes, not only is it much longer than the clips we usually get to see, it's well shot, alternating views of the whole performance space with views of a part of it, to follow a solo, at least for a time; there are no claustrophobic close-ups. And if the choice of what solo is followed seems a little random at times -- well, where else would a little randomness be appropriate than in a performance of something by Merce? (Maybe someone whose French is more secure than mine can verify whether we have Charles Atlas to include in our gratitude for being able to see this a lot like we could if we were there.) And the image is pretty clear and sharp, too. This has been up for three years, so I suppose -- I hope -- it will remain available for some time to come. (I had a little trouble with it just now, myself, though.)

Not the least value of it is that is makes vivid Homans's (and others') characterization of Merce's dances. Having discussed the role of chance or randomness in their making, she says, maybe to prevent us drawing the wrong conclusion:

[H]is dances never appeared fragmented or disordered but were instead seamless and whole, possessed of an uncanny and appealing mix of artifice and spontaneity.

Homans also mentions Merce's interest in nature. Dances like Beach Birds, clips of which are on YouTube, suggest that pretty overtly. What I didn't know is that Merce drew, and his nature interest shows there too. Here is a link to some of his drawings, including nature subjects, currently on view (extended to 7th August) at the Margarete Roeder Gallery in New York:


(Clicking on the small images opens larger ones.)

*The DailyMotion link hasn't started working again yet, so here are a couple of links to other sites both showing another version which omits the first ten seconds or so and lacks the image quality of the Dailymotion video, but which -- just now, at least -- do work:



Edited by Jack Reed
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Just by the way; in the course of a conversation some thirty years ago I was surprised to learn that Cunningham and Fonteyn were firm friends. The surprise was not that they liked and admired each other but that they had a plan to work together. Cunningham was to make a work for Fonteyn - solo, duet, group dance, I don't know what - which would be performed for an invited audience at Jasper Johns' studio. It was Fonteyn who told me and I later checked with Merce who verified that they did have this project. Clearly it never happened, but it's fascinating to think what kind of dance he might have made on that very classical body.

Obviously he did work with ballet companies; I remember seeing one of the early performances of Un Jour ou Deux in an almost empty Palais Garnier, but it's an indication that Fonteyn was not as conservative as she is often said to have been. (I'll skip over Lucifer, as I suspect she did that purely to please Nureyev.)

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My sister and I were watching the Elliot Kaplan video of Points in Space once, and I was in the kitchen getting something when Cunningham came back on the screen -- she yelled out "Merce alert, Merce alert!" to get me back into the room.

I wrote a little something for a local blog here

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Jed Perl, art critic for The New Republic, curates an online slideshow of American artist John Heliker's sketches and portraits of the young Merce Cunningham:

Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man / "You Must Change Your Life"

I was friends with Heliker for many years, and although he would occasionally mention the time he had spent with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, especially their weeks together in Italy and France in the summer of 1949, it was only some years after Heliker's death in 2000 that I became aware that he had drawn and painted his friend Merce. The glimpses of Cunningham that we discover here have a delicacy and a dreaminess about them; these are very much portraits of the artist as a young man. And particularly in Heliker's painting of Cunningham, with its echoes of Picasso's saltimbanques, we see the most striking illustration imaginable of Alastair Macaulay's observation, in his obituary in The New York Times, that in the early years Cunningham's "long neck and sloping shoulders reminded people of a Picasso acrobat."
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National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program this afternoon (2-4 EST, I don't know about elsewhere) will include a segment entitled "Bill T. Jones Remembers Merce Cunningham." This is a call-in show. A link to Weekend Edition Saturday's Cunningham remembrance piece is here.

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