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27.7.09

Merce Cunningham, 90

It is hard not to think that a certain age of experimentalism ends with the death of modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham last night. Sarah Kaufman has a long piece today in the Washington Post:

Where other choreographers looked to music and their own imagination for inspiration, Mr. Cunningham favored the creative strategies of a physicist, a Vegas high roller and a techno-whiz. He split the atomic unity of music and dance. No longer were the steps dependent on a beat; in Mr. Cunningham's works, the dancing and the music were utterly independent of each other, existing side by side "in space and time," that is, performed in the same spot for a set number of minutes, but coming together essentially as strangers.
As expected, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's appearance at Wolf Trap two weeks ago was its last. Rather than preparing a successor to lead the modern dance company that bears his name, Cunningham recently announced that it will die with him. In a column about the decision (Why Dances Disappear, July 7) in the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout asserted that Cunningham's plan, to establish a trust to preserve his choreographies rather than having the company carry them on, will fail because it relies on the imprecise medium of choreographic notation. However, for many years, Cunningham has created his complex choreography with the aid of a computer program: combined with video recordings, one could certainly recreate what Cunningham told his dancers to do. Even so, it remains to be seen how long Cunningham's work will survive him.

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