And While I'm Talking About Merce

August 6, 2007

I just saw a wonderful exhibit that’s up at the NY Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. It’s called “Invention: Merce Cunningham & Collaborators” and you can easily spend a couple hours wandering around among the beautiful photographs, posters, plans for dances, fabric samples, and encased costumes. To see the bulky cottons and woolens for Cunningham’s dances in the 1940s (e.g. Root of an Unfocus) is to see the link between Cunningham and Graham. To see Robert Rauschenberg’s vast backdrop for Summerspace (1958) is to see the link between abstract art and pointillism.

    Eliot Caplan’s excellent documentary film Cage/Cunningham (1981) shows a few seconds of Changeling, Merce’s early solo that inspired Carolyn Brown to talk about his “animal grace” in her book (see my last blog). And there’s a few seconds of Viola Farber twitching gloriously as though her skin were undergoing alternate pleasure and pain treatments. Also in the film Rauschenberg talks about his part in the early collaborations. He says those projects were “excruciating but the most exciting and real because nobody knew what anyone else was doing till it was too late.”

    In one area you can sit and watch six different dances on six monitors, with headphones tuned to the one of your choice. In this setting the winner is How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run, with readings by Cunningham and David Vaughan that are based on stories by or about John Cage, Suzuki, Krishnamurti, and David Tudor—all with a delightful dose of dry zen wit. The piece embodies the Cage/Cunningham fabric of ordinariness that accommodated so many extraordinary things. (Like the famous many-armed, Dr. Suess-looking sweater that Merce knit with Valda Setterfield for Antic Meet, also here on display.)

    The overall feeling is one of peacefulness. The show is up till October 13, and I recommend it. See