The Cunningham Company
I watched the Merce Cunningham Company rehearse for two months before I ever saw them dance in concert. It was 1977 and I was living in Westbeth in downtown NYC, the location of the Cunningham studios. John Cage lived just down Bank Street and we played chess two or three times a week (much to the chagrin of Bill Anastasi, who played with John almost every day until I arrived on the scene). Anyway, John thought watching Merce rehearse would help my composing and even though Merce was not so sure he wanted a visitor, John prevailed and I went to rehearsals for the next two months. I learned a lot, not only about timing, phrasing, and juxtaposition of events, but about commitment, dedication and persevering, as well. In many ways it was a life-changing moment for me. John was right.
These thoughts and feelings came flooding back to me on New Year's Eve as Nora and I watched the final performance of the Cunningham Company at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC (thanks Tony). Merce had decided before his death in 2009 that the company should undertake a 2-year Legacy Tour and then disband, leaving future performances of his work to be licensed by other companies. This New Year's Eve performance was the final one.
As you can imagine, the moment was intense. The Armory, a city block in size, was set with three stages on which Events unfurled, from solos to full company. Events, incidentally, were designed by Merce for site-specific spaces, and are made of excerpts from past and current repertory works. Events feature live music composed specifically for the occasion, in this instance by David Behrman, John King, Takehisa Kosugi, and Christian Wolff. For the Legacy Tour, Director of Choreography, Robert Swinston, oversaw the undertaking.
I chose to sit and let the moments come to me; Nora moved around a bit. Either way, the staging was so powerful that it was impossible to take it in all at once. For a final sendoff, what better way to go than to fill a city block and make every moment in the space feel special in every possible way. I watched the movements of the dancers and thought of John and Merce. It was an emotional moment, to say the least. I'll stick by my tweet from a few minutes after the performance ended: “Fabulous dancing, exquisite music, endless applause. The end of an era.”