Carolyn Brown in Summerspace (1958), with design by Robert Rauschenberg. Credit: Richard Rutledge/New York Times
FP: How do you think Merce influenced the direction modern dance took in the decades after he started making work?
DJ: I think his influence was on the people of Judson Dance Theater. He influenced them to go further, to take risks. [He showed them] that the conventional ways in which dance and music and scenery were tied together could be violated in any number of fascinating and constructive ways, that chance operations could configure in making a dance, which was John Cage’s influence on him.
Those dancers went further in that Cunningham liked his dancers to look everyday but he didn’t want everyday people to be dancers. He wanted dancers to be beautiful, special-looking people. The people who wanted to explore further were part of the 1960s zeitgeist and wanted to utilize all he had opened up for them in terms of interesting procedures … but they didn’t want to use virtuosic dancers. So they didn’t copy his movement style but rather some of his ideas about structure and what was possible in dance.
For more Cunningham coverage, see Alastair Macaulay’s obituary in The New York Times and Robert Greskovic’s remembrance in The Wall Street Journal.