Day of Merce and Frustration!

Yesterday I went to the Merce Cunningham exhibit at the New York Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. At noon there was a short, live, four-person performance of solos and duets right in the lobby. All dancers — two male, two female — wore blue unitards and the music sounded somewhat like the ocean. At times the dancers looked a bit like they were swimming. Of course it was abstract, but that’s what I got out of it.

I then headed into the exhibit, which was really pretty cool. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this was my first experience with Cunningham (aside from the time Winger Tony Schultz and I saw him in the audience, wheelchair-bound, at another modern dance performance). Embarrassing to admit since he’s only one of the founding fathers of dance in this country! The exhibit was pretty comprehensive and very entertaining. They had videos of several of his works, all performed in the last ten years, but some choreographed far earlier. Cunningham himself danced mainly in the 40s and 50s. He is still choreographing, but of course no longer dancing.

The videos were my favorite part of the exhibit. They had several screens mounted on the wall, you took a chair hooked up to earphones and selected the music from whichever screen you wished to concentrate on. I actually found all screens mesmerizing and it was hard to focus on only one at a time. Funny thing, though, you really didn’t need to. The music (oftentimes sounds — of waterfalls, birds, people talking, etc.) seemed not to matter at all; you could have selected any soundtrack and watched any one of the screens. This, to me, marked Cunningham the complete opposite of Mark Morris, whose choreography is his rendition of that particular musical piece in motion. Also in contrast to how I personally felt watching Morris’s Mozart Pieces on PBS, Cunningham’s choreography was so engaging, I actually didn’t care what the sound was like.

My favorite video was called “How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run” which was accompanied not by music but by Cunningham and another man, named David Vaughn, reading bits of text to the audience. At times their voices would overlap so you couldn’t even really make out the words, at times you could and the text was very humorous, and at times you just couldn’t pay attention to the text because the moving bodies were just so mesmerizing, even though they weren’t doing anything tremendously virtuostic. One passage, read by Vaughn, told of a man who gave a lecture on how to attend a lecture. He instructed attendees to listen, which they couldn’t do if they were taking notes. One woman was taking notes. The man next to her told her she was not supposed to take notes. She quickly read over her notes and said to the man, “that’s right. I’m not supposed to take notes; I’ve got that written right here.” The audience laughed like crazy. Throughout the reading of the text, the dancers, wearing colorful sweaters over plain black leotards, would jump, hold each other and bounce, kick playfully, scamper across the stage, then do slower prettier arabesques, sometimes with an awkwardly bent standing leg. The movements kind of did and didn’t correspond to the text. If you watched it a couple of times, it did, in a way. For example, at one point Vaughn began a brief vignette in which two women went to a women’s business meeting, and at that point two female dancers would wrap arms around each other and hop on one leg around in a circle, then let go of each other and both hopped toward the front of the stage. Kind of goofy-looking, but then a man emerged and they began a complicated, serious, lift sequence with him. Is a business meeting silly, serious, or both at times? I don’t know. But I found the process of watching the piece a few times and arriving at different conclusions each time rather fun and invigorating. It was also cool to recognize one of the dancers, Holley Farmer, who was in the David Michalek films.

Then, they had tons of pictures of the company performing, from 1945 up through the present, another film showing an interview with Cunningham, numerous costumes some of which were quite colorful and interesting-looking to put it mildly (one was a leotard with aluminum cans taped to the legs! — wish I would have seen that piece!), a bunch of musical scores and choreographer’s notes (the latter of which looked like heiroglyphics to me and made me wonder how in the world choreographers notate a work to preserve it), and some posters by such great artists as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol promoting the company on tour and at home.

Top pic is of Carolyn Brown dancing with Cunningham himself in the company’s early days, which was interesting to me since I’d recently seen her speak about her new memoir about dancing with Merce, at Jacob’s Pillow (in that picture that I linked to above, from the previous blog entry, she is the woman in the white dress). It was quite a long time ago that she had danced with him and, wow, was she was a striking beauty back then.

Anyway, for people in NYC, I urge you to check it out. It’s a real history lesson, a fun informative trip through time, since Cunningham is such a foundational figure in dance in this country. It closes on October 13th, so you still have some time.

I recently bought a new camera with more pixels, a more powerful zoom, and motion control (so as to take better photos of all the lovely ballroom dancing I will soon be viewing, like tomorrow!) Hopefully, the pics will be better than before (the picture in this entry is better than previous ones, right!). But I’m having trouble uploading from my new software to my Plogger. Spent a good deal of the day trying to figure it out to no avail. It has no problem uploading the pics from my former camera software (which it seems is incompatible with the new camera). Argh, I HATE technology — just can’t figure things out! So, for the time being anyway, I’m using my Flickr account to upload new pictures. I created a link down at the bottom of the blogroll to my Flickr page, which is likely where I’ll end up putting the pictures from the dance competition I’m about to head off to… Have to go pack!

Oh, and my TAC headache seems to be officially over, for now anyway. Yay! Thank you so much, you guys for your concern 🙂 I really appreciate it 🙂


  1. I’m so totally checking it out!! thanks for sharing!!
    and be patient with your new cam, you will soon figure it out! hehe

  2. Thanks Dea. I’m so glad you are back 🙂

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