MERCE CUNNINGHAM, APRIL 16, 1919 – JULY 26, 2009
The sky crackled with lightning that night, the air rattled with thunder, and Merce Cunningham joined with the elements so natural to him: the earth, the sky, the water, and the air.
Those birds he drew! They could fly as he once could and as, until his last two weeks, he set his dancers to doing. He told me near the end of his life that choreography had become, for him, “a habit of mind.” Even as movement was taken from him, his dancers gave it back. So direct, their process with Merce: thought into movement, with nothing intermediary.
In his last months, he was tired; but he was game. He never stopped laughing, at himself as much as anyone or anything. To the end he was gallant and courteous with visitors, and clear. Always clear, like those green eyes that could look as blue as the sky on a cloudless day. I asked him this:
Merce, how is it that without music, without narrative, and with your using chance procedures to remove yourself, to keep from imposing your personality on the movement, that your dances are so passionate?
Because, he replied, I love dancing!
portrait of Merce Cunningham courtesy of Hugo Glendinning ©copyright Hugo Glendinning
Quotations from an interview by Nancy Dalva ©copyright Nancy Dalva