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Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Final Goodbye

Photograph by Annie Leibowitz, 1997
I found myself back in New York this week in order to attend the final meeting of the Board of Directors for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  Merce, the Artistic Director and sole choreographer for the Company, passed away two and a half years ago after his 90th birthday.
Changeling, 1957
Occasion Piece, 1999, with Mikhail Baryshnikov
 It was his wishes that the Company complete a worldwide legacy tour and then close.  December 31, 2011 was the final performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Final Event at the Park Avenue Armory, 2011
Closing a non-profit is complicated and slightly messy.  Still waiting on invoices and monies to come in, it's also tedious and slow.  But, after the end of the third quarter, it was clear that the Board could begin to dissolve.  Our meeting was melancholy, with stories from Board members who had been with Merce since the beginning.  Everyone in that room had a special bond with our raison d'ĂȘtre, and I enjoyed the regalia and camaraderie.  At the end of the meeting we signed a letter of resignation from the Board. With my signature, 15 years of commitment and adoration to a genius came to an end.  

Afterwards, we attended a dinner in the beautiful studio at the top of the Westbeth building in the West Village.  Tables were arranged on the dance floor - something Merce would never have allowed!

Dancers from over the years attended along with long-serving patrons and staff members.  It was like a large family reunion celebrating the life and work of our beloved Merce.
Dancer Daniel Squire, right
Dancers Jamie Scott (left) and Lisa Boudreau
Dancer Holly Farmer with her husband
With Executive Director and great friend, Trevor Carlson.
Trevor and I started working for Merce at the same time 15 years ago!
One of the cool things about Merce was his idea to collaborate independently with other artists.  Artists like  Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons for Scenario (1997).  No one could ever forget these costumes that made this work so special.

Or Roy Lichtenstein who did the haunting decor for one of my favorite works, Pond Way (1998), along with the calming music of Brian Eno. 

Andy Warhol even got into the scene with his decor of Mylar pillows that floated around the stage during RainForest in 1968.

And even in his eighties, Merce was still young at heart, collaborating with Radiohead and Sigur Ros in the work Split Slides (2003).

For his last work to ever be choreographed, Nearly Ninety (2009), dancers shared the stage with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Sonic Youth.

Merce was special indeed.  He was a rare exotic bird with talent like no other.  And I am still amazed and honored that I had the tiniest of part in sharing Merce's brilliance with the world.  Goodnight Sweet Prince.


Claire said...

A beautiful memorial. As ever, your selection of images creates a door for us readers. As I read, I felt that I was moving through Merce's oeuvre, my imagination flowing into his history and your experience. The final shot only promises more life; Merce is tensed to open a new season.

Claire said...

Sorry, I can't stop! How soon could I make to NY? The Beat Goes On and on and on
★ Alexei Lubimov: Cage/Cunningham Program (Thursday, through March 24) Good news for everyone who reluctantly parted ways with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in December: Less than three months after the company’s closing, eight of Cunningham’s former dancers are back with a restaging of his 1993 piece “Doubletoss.” Arranged by Robert Swinston, “Doubletoss Interludes” is set to John Cage’s “Four Walls,” which will be played live by the renowned Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov. What better way to honor two masters of invention than with an intriguing reinvention of their work? At 8 p.m., Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan, (866) 811-4111,; $25. (Burke)