Merce Cunningham in "Antic Meet", 1958

I became aware of Merce Cunningham via Cage of course and I was aware of how much of the music of that period that I so admired was paired with his dances.  Calvin Tompkin’s piece on Cunningham in The Bride and the Bachelors, though made me want to see some of these dances. Thanks to video I was able to see some of his works, dances that I found quite compelling and constantly engaging. I have little experience with dance in almost any form, so I really can’t comment much on them beyond that.  His use of many of the ideas that Cage championed such as chance operations, his decoupling of the dance from the music and his use of vital contemporary artists such as Rauschenberg and Johns for his sets and costumes kept his work endlessly fresh and compelling as far as I can tell.

On the day this news broke I was in San Francisco, seeing a bit of the city after a long bicycle trip. I took the train home that night and on the following day, yesterday, I passed through the small southwestern town of Centralia where Merce was born and raised.  Its dusty streets, a few shops and signs of it all collapsing from reliance on old industries such as logging were visible from the station. Such an out of the way backwater for one of the most adventurous innovators in modern dance. I thought of Merce as the train left the station and Centralia bound for Seattle, where he would attend Cornish, decide to dance, meet Cage and it was with much regret that I never got to see him or his company perform.  There had just been an article published in June outlining Cunningham’s plan for his company after his death and one of his plans was for a two year retrospective world tour of the company after which they would disband.  I for one intend to make one of those shows and see some of theses dances for myself.  Merce will be missed, but what a legacy.

Excellent NY Times Obit
Very nice Seattle Times Obit