Song and Dance Men

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Chance and CircumstanceChance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham
by Carolyn Brown
Alfred A. Knopf. 656 pages, $37.50

 

I WAS ON SCHOLARSHIP at Merce Cunningham’s dance studio back in the late 1970’s when dance was big in New York City and everyone was heavy into the Baryshnikov craze. Merce Cunningham was a quiet, elusive figure who wandered out every morning from the back door of his Westbeth studio to water the plants. Always dressed in the same sweatpants and leotard top, he puttered around barely looking at the hordes of dancers who had collected for morning classes. Soft-spoken to the point of being inaudible when directing his dancers, he communicated his instructions through a series of rhythmic gestures with his arms, jottings in the air that represented the combinations he wanted executed. I also saw John Cage, Cunningham’s live-in partner of many years, who would emerge from the same back door and wander off to go his separate way.

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