Remembering Merce Cunningham (1919–2009)

A farewell to the choreographer of chance and thrilling universes

Like many great artists, he never stopped being fascinated by how one could see and experience the world. When he could easily have coasted along, doing what he did so wonderfully, he got interested in filming dance and the ways it might influence the way he worked on a stage. Then he investigated the constraints of television's black box. In Biped (1999), motion capture was an element of the stage design; audiences for eyeSpace (2006) were given iPods on which they could hear parts of the score, shuffled variously.

A genius of our age: Cunningham with the Paris Opera Ballet, 1973
A genius of our age: Cunningham with the Paris Opera Ballet, 1973

One of the geniuses of our age, he tuned up our eyes and ears and changed the way we saw dance. Once, he wrote: "You have to love dancing to stick to it. [It] gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that fleeting moment when you feel alive." That intense feeling of life—for life—permeates the dances and the memories of dances he had to leave behind. Hail, Merce, and farewell.

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