‘Merce Cunningham is, without doubt, the world’s greatest living choreographer,’ wrote John O’Mahony some years ago in the Guardian, ‘His name stands alongside Martha Graham and George Balanchine in the pantheon of mercurial figures that transformed twentieth-century dance.’
Cunningham (1919-2009) was also the life partner of another leading creative figure, the composer and artist, John Cage. Both men were careful to maintain their privacy, notes Peter Dickinson in his book of interviews about the latter, CageTalk:
What is significant is the stroke of fortune that brought them together…and eventually gave them most of a lifetime together. Cage needed dancers and support from other arts at a time when the musical world would not take him seriously; Cunningham needed a promoter. Cage turned to Zen and chance [especially the I-Ching] at a time of great personal crisis but he also had Cunningham, and together they transformed both dance and music. [CageTalk, p.55-6]
I’ve had this photograph of Merce Cunningham in a folder of people and things to draw for some years. Look at that remarkable face under that astonishing hair-do. There is a life well-lived in those folds and lines. I’ve tried before to capture his ‘gaze’ – as Emily Ball has it – including that slightly wayward left eye, but here it finally seems to have worked.