Friday, July 31, 2009

Bodies at Rest

I don't normally discuss the performing arts here. I suppose I have too many interests; I just love all the arts. The diversity of topics is what keeps this blog interesting for me, keeps me posting to it, but I guess I figure I have to limit it at least somewhat or...what wouldn't I be discussing on it?

Still, I feel the need to pay my respects to Merce Cunningham. The best connection I can make is I believe dance to be sculpture in motion.
--Photo courtesy New York Times.
Truly he was one of the greatest figures in the entire history of dance. But most pertinently, he was a terribly important thread in a grand web of people, many of whom I would never hesitate to discuss here. Mostly through association with Black Mountain College--an institution that fascinates me every bit as much as the Bauhaus--his circle included some of the greatest luminaries of creative thought of the entire century. John Cage, first of all, whose 4'33" is arguably the most important piece of music ever composed; Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Philip Johnson onto Mies van der Rohe and presumably countless other great minds who met for afternoon tea at the Glass House; by Cage through Richard Lippold to Walter Gropius; Buckminster Fuller, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, the Immortal Brian Eno. And all of them on top of Graham, Tharp, Robbins, Balanchine, Baryshnikov, and all the other obvious cast members.

I'm tempted to wonder if the New York scene will ever be like that again. In his own way he was a crucial hub in that vast network.

It almost seems a little spooky to me that Cunningham had only so recently settled his estate. Loved ones had in his last few days had the chance to visit and bid him farewell. Clearly he knew the end was near. He was still choreographing, at least in his mind.

For me, from a linguistic vantage point, I've often been fascinated by the way dance is notated, particularly where it might concern Rudolf Laban, who I'd love to read if his out-of-print writings weren't $400 a used copy--I'll just have to suck it up and visit the library. It's probably the most fleeting and ethereal of all the art forms. So I was quite fascinated by a trial version of DanceForms, the choreography software Cunningham helped to develop. I played around with it for a short while to get a handle on how it works, but I've got way too many other things to worry about to create a revolution in dance at this point. I've got a lot of it in my head, though. Like I said: too many interests.

The creative world has lost one of its brightest stars. I do hope there will be Cunningham retrospectives from all the great dance companies in the coming year.

Merce Cunningham

©2009, Ryan Witte

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