Why I mourn the death of Merce Cunningham

Lara Platman

I am terribly sad to hear of the passing of Merce Cunningham, who has died at the age of 90. He was a brilliant choreographer and dancer who worked with the likes of Andy Warhol, Steve Reich, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, John Cage, his lifelong partner, and oh   so many more pop art legends.

American-born Cunningham was one of the first choreographers who utilised the new age of   digital technology, choreographing his pieces from computer, plotting out the steps and movements, so that the dancers would perform almost organic robotic like movements.

His dancers stayed with him for years, allowing the repertoires to be complete and thorough, almost as if it was an inherent part of their souls. I went to Paris one year to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform at the Theatre de Ville. He was not scheduled in the UK that year and I did not want a year to pass without me experiencing the joy of his work. I can remember it was one of my favourite trips to the city; almost a pilgrimage to see his outstanding performers dance using the Cunningham technique.

After shows at the Barbican, Sadlers Wells and the South Bank,in London, the final performance by Merce Cunningham for me was at the Tate Modern under the huge mirror with the glowing light of the sun at the far end of the Turbine Hall, part of the Unilever Exhibitions. Merce performed up on the balcony as his team   danced on the ground.

The audience lay on the cold concrete of the power station floor looking up into the mirror. The performance was back choreographed upside and back to front. Pure, pure genius.   Merce in his late 80s danced with a smooth energy. It was a remarkable work staged by a giant of dance.

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