Merce Cunningham, with photography from James Klosty
|At the piano at Westbeth|
He was a man with a mind which was constantly alert to almost everything around him. Very–sharp tongued is wrong–but very bright. He worked constantly….Constantly composing or doing art work or answering letters, or writing books. It was simply what he did. And he may have said things that sounded as though he didn’t do anything, but he was constantly at something. Patient? Not entirely. No.
|Playing chess in Belgrade, 1972|
Mostly he was, I guess, patient–patiently he would listen to people–and make some remarks. Sometimes those were very funny. He liked talking with people who were interesting. It didn’t make any difference whether they were osteopaths or whatever, it didn’t make a difference. If it’s someone who had an interesting mind, he’d want to know what that person’s mind was like. I think he was just open, wasn’t so much learning as absorbing.
|Rehearsal at Westbeth in 1971|
His mind was so bright it could hop from one thing to another, and in great detail. And he could take something which was unfamiliar and look at it or listen to it, or both, or whatever, and discern something about it that nobody else perhaps had even ever figured out.
|Rehearsing Cunningham’s “Second Hand” at Westbeth in 1972, Carolyn Brown and Merce Cunningham dancing|
I remember after one rehearsal John Cage saying to one of these piano teachers, “Now you’re playing everything absolutely perfect. Just go a little further and make a few mistakes.” It was like some kind of eye opener. One had thought that one should do one’s technique perfectly–the idea of perfection. And it isn’t that he didn’t want us to play the notes correctly. Just go a little further. Risk!
|At the Merce Cunningham Studio in Westbeth|
A very good memory, and because of the wideness of his mind, of his thinking, he absorbed things in ways that opened them out into other directions. He was bright, no doubt incredibly bright.
And funny, you know, marvelously funny.
|Touring in France|
Photos kind courtesy and copyright ©James Klosty, with thanks for this collaboration.
Text from the transcripts of “Mondays with Merce,” ©Nancy Dalva