Clyde Street

Learning, Teaching, Performing

Mercier (Merce) Philip Cunningham

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A few weeks ago (1 August) I found an obituary of Merce Cunningham written by David Vaughan. I was reading the Canberra Times but have discovered that the Obituary appeared in The Guardian on 27 July.

David Vaughan worked with Merce Cunningham since 1959. His obituary is sensitive and rich in information. Here are some points from his obituary:

  • Merce Cunningham was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, and the greatest American-born one.
  • As a choreographer, he never abandoned the voyage of discovery that he embarked on at the beginning of his career.
  • His work was essentially classical in its formal qualities, its rigour, and its purity.
  • He was, like most creative artists, chiefly involved in the work he was doing now – or was going to do next.
  • He pioneered work in film and video.
  • In the 90s, his fascination with the computer program DanceForms led to the formulation of a new choreographic complexity.

What fascinated me about Merce Cunningham was his ability to observe movement and transform it into dance. Judith Mackrell has noted that “No one else made dance that looked remotely like this, and at the same time no one else had Cunningham’s conceptual ambitions.”

I am intrigued by observation and creativity. I think sport has an enormous amount to learn from the performing arts and from the life of visionary performers.

Judith Mackrell offered this synthesis of his work:

Throughout his career he continued to make explorations. It was Cunningham who led the way in using computers as an aid to creating dances; he was later one of the first choreographers to use digital technology in staging his work. There was always a part of the dance world, which regarded Cunningham as too cerebral, too weird, that resisted these preoccupations. Some of his early reviews were terrible. Yet for those of us who have loved and admired his works, they seemed the opposite of dry. For one thing Cunningham was a rare, instinctive showman. On stage he was mesmerizing.

It seems to me these are the characteristics of those who define and transform their age.

Author: Keith Lyons

Clyde Street has been my WordPress blog since June 2008. I write about learning, teaching and performing.

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