As I was taking my seat at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on July 26th, a colleague murmured, “This will be probably be the last time we see the company while Merce is still alive.”
As it turned out, it was.
Merce Cunningham, 90, passed away later that same evening. The Pillow had been celebrating Cunningham’s legacy for that past week, which included a talk with archivist David Vaughan, who told lively tales of Cunningham’s early days working with his frequent collaborator Robert Rauschenberg. Earlier in the season, Cunningham received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, one among many lifetime honors.
This Friday, Aug. 7, Houston will have a chance to bid farewell to these two titans of the arts. Society for the Performing Arts (SPA), ARTPIX and Microcinema International team up to honor Cunningham and Rauschenberg in a free outdoor film showing of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Split Sides and Interscape. The screening begins at 8 p.m. at the Menil, 1515 Sul Ross.
For those of us coming of age as dancers and artists during the post Martha Graham years, an era has ended. As children of Merce, we benefited from the man who freed dance from the strict confines of narrative, meaning and metaphor. Everything you needed to understand in a Cunningham dance was contained within its boundaries.
Wendy Perron, editor in chief of Dance Magazine, writes in her blog remembrance:
It was never a matter of loving one of his pieces or hating another. It was how he put dances together: based on curiosity, based on what the body can do, and yes, based on chance. It was how he stimulated the mind as he activated the bodies.
SPA brought the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to Houston four times between 1989 and 2005.
“Merce Cunningham Dance Company was one of the first companies that we presented not long after I joined SPA that really gave me an insight into contemporary dance,” said SPA Executive Director and CEO June Christensen. “Merce changed our perception of what a dance performance should be, separating the music and dance. He was innovative and visionary, and will truly be missed.”
Split Sides (2003) features a score by Britain’s Radiohead and Iceland’s Sigur Rs. John Cage scored Interscape (2000). Rauschenberg designed the sets and costumes for the latter performance. Both pieces were filmed by Charles Atlas.
Reprinted from 29-95.c0m.