As we blogged about yesterday, dance and choreographer Merce Cunningham, one of the founding and most enduring forces in contemporary dance, died on Sunday. Though no longer an explosive scenester like, say, Dash Snow, Cunningham’s influence on his art form and the larger creative community was incalculable. Like another recent loss in the dance community, Pina Bausch (who passed away last month), Cunningham’s death at the age of 90 has ellicited some moving features and obituaries, such as the following.
Alastair Macauley‘s appropriately epic obit (4 web pages!) situates Cunningham’s oeuvre simultaneously within the larger international context of post-war Modernism, the revolutionary evolutions of contemporary dance in the 60s and 70s, and the evolving New York art scene. Money quote: “Mr. Cunningham ranks among the foremost figures of artistic modernism and among the few who have transformed the nature and status of dance theater.” (A typically stunning Times slideshow and video accompany the piece, and both are well worth your time.)
Picking up a thread mentioned elsewhere, Mark Swed sees Cunningham’s career as an ongoing movement between chaos and control. Money quote: “Merce never lost his love of life, and living for Merce was being in a permanent state of openness to new possibilities. The minute you realize that, his work suddenly seems like the liveliest, most accessible on the planet, because it celebrates the life we live and the planet we live on.”
The Voice‘s Deborah Jowitt promises to write more, but her early obit focuses on how enduring and resilient Cunningham remained to the end of his career, noting his company’s performance the very afternoon of his death and the 90th birthday extravaganza premiere of Nearly Ninety at BAM in April. Money quote: “He woke up our eyes to see dancing for itself—as complex, fleeting, and often irrational as life.”
An apparently author-less obituary in the art-world mag takes a dull, timeline-driven look at Cunningham’s career. What the piece lacks in spirit it makes up for with wild comparative analyses. Money quote: “In his final years he became almost routinely hailed as the world’s greatest choreographer. For many, he had simply been the greatest living artist since Samuel Beckett.”
One of the contemporary dance community’s biggest publications has a surprisingly short blog post by Wendy Perron on Cunningham’s death (presumably their next print edition will remedy the situation).Thankfully, the piece features the kind of personal stories and anecdotes that the close-knit dance world still manages to foster. Money quote: “I feel lucky that I saw Merce dance himself (like an electrical current onstage), that I took class with him and felt his gentle hands on my shoulders, that I got to see his work evolve over decades.”