Wednesday, July 29, 2009
On the Death of Merce Cunningham
Picture is John Cage and Merce Cunningham.
When I was an undergraduate in Sacramento, Merce Cunningham came to our school with his group and performed. There was a play running in the Little Theater that used a steeply raked stage, and the dancers were required to dance on it. They did the best they could not picking up speed when running down the stage.
Things happened for no apparent reason. In one section one of the male dancers appeared in thick furry leg warmers. We puzzled. What could it mean?
In the pit were two grand pianos and two young men who “played” them. Every once in a while one would lay his arm down on the keyboard or reach inside the piano and pluck the strings. I think it was only later I realized these were John Cage and David Tudor.
One of our professors condescendingly informed us that we simply didn’t understand. As though he did. We did Stravinsky and were at least aware of Webern, but this was something different.
Of course, it was intended to be meaningless. Is that what the professor meant?