Merce Cunningham: any kind of movement


“Oh it’s terrible,” Cunningham says – and laughs. “I would like to dance.” He really means it. But, at 87, he is sitting in a wheelchair, his expressive hands are creased with the marks of age, and his body – once so erect and graceful – seems to have folded in on itself. However, his hair still falls in exotic curls, his eyes are steady, and his gentle voice is clear and sure. Each day, after rising and making little pencil drawings of animals (“a wonderful way of getting out of your own head, nothing to do with art”), he takes rehearsals at his company’s studio in New York – for over half a century perhaps the most important modern dance company in the world. Three simple but revolutionary ideas helped forge Cunningham’s methods: first, that dance need not be made “to” the music, but could have a separate existence; second, that dance need not signify or refer to anything else, but could simply “be itself”; third, Cunningham along with Cage pioneered the use of chance procedures in making work – the I Ching (the ancient Chinese book of divination), or, for example, throws of the dice, which might be used to determine the sequence of a set of movements.

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