Merce Cunningham

Monday 27 July 2009

There’s a rumor Merce’ll stop. Ten years ago, London critic said he was too old. He himself says he’s just getting a running start. Annalie Newman says he’s like wine: he improves with age.

— John Cage, “Where Are We Eating? and What Are We Eating? (Thirty-eight Variations on a Theme by Alison Knowles)”, 1975.

If I’m asked to name the greatest gigs I’ve been to, the first one that comes to mind is the performance of Merce Cunningham’s Ocean at the Roundhouse in 2006. Now I’m kicking myself for not going out of my way to see more of Cunningham’s choreography – it’s highly unlikely the time it would have taken was better spent.

Merce Cunningham died yesterday at the age of ninety. As a music snob I’ve always thought of him first as John Cage’s partner, but even then neither Cage’s life or work can be considered independently of Cunningham’s. It seems like there are so few artists of their kind these days, who are so truly fearless and adventurous, and less interested in grandstanding over how “provocative” and “radical” they claim themselves to be.

Just last month Cunningham announced his plans to preserve the legacy of his dance company and his work. Hopefully his death did not come too soon for these plans to be carried out.