Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Yesterday was a day of shocks. In the NY Times, Alastair Macaulay reviewed the current season at Jacob's Pillow, and he concluded with a long paean to Merce Cunningham's company which had just performed. Then the news broke: Merce Cunningham had died on Sunday night, July 26. Right after the performances at Jacob's Pillow; he died at home.

It wasn't unexpected (in a way) because he was 90, but in April, after his borthday, there was an article in the NY Times about how Cunningham was preparing for the continuation of his company. A number of the "senior" dancers had been let go, and the company was preparing for the revival of certain dances, and a performance schedule was being set up for the company. In the article, it stated that there was a timetable of about two years, and then Cunningham felt his legacy would be complete, and that was it.

As it happened, after reading the first of the many items about Cunningham's death, i picked up Carolyn Brown's "Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years With Cage and Cunningham"; i opened it at random, and came across: 'The beliefs: "Dancing is a spiritual exercise in physical form" (Merce Cunningham)....'

So much for "chance" procedures. It's been so long, it's hard to remember how important "chance" was to the arts as an alternative to traditional methods of composition; this was particularly true in terms of music and dance. And at the forefront of "chance" procedures was John Cage.

It is difficult to sort out the type of "influence" that Cunningham had on the world of dance, because his singularity has persisted into the 21st Century. Others of his generation (Sybil Shearer, Anna Halprin, Paul Taylor, James Waring) did some startling, unusual things. But for some reason Cunningham continued to evolve in terms of his aesthetic. It's also hard for those of us who came to dance in the 1960s: by then, Cunningham was the old master, and a new generation of dancers (Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Steve Paxton, et al) came to the fore, and were proving to be ever more radical.

Yet when i close my eyes, i can see Cunningham spinning, his arms and hands darting with sharp, sudden thrusts, his feet scampering swiftly. I see that lean body in a leotard, a body that seemed almost boneless and certainly weightless.

And now he's really gone.

On a more personal note, i was alerted by Stephen Kent Jusick of MIX NYC that Robert Hilferty had died. this was really a shock, because Robert was only in his 50s. He had been a critic for Bloomberg News, and also wrote for publications like The Advocate. But i'll remember Robert as an activist filmmaker, part of the ACT-UP faction, whose video "Stop the Church" was an impassioned documentation of the gay protests at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

So a day of sadness.

Woke up to a huge obit to Cunningham by Alastair Macaulay in the NY Times, but on TCM, "On With the Show", the 1929 Warners musical which i thought had been lost. But there it was, not in color, perhaps (it had originally been shot in two-tone Technicolor, but all Technicolor prints have been lost, though there is reputedly at least one segment that has been found in color), but it does have Ethel Waters singing "Am I Blue?" And who needs anything else?


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