Merce Cunningham: Moved by the Music of Our Time

Training

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, is there a timeline in terms of training dancers? How long does it take somebody who doesn’t know this stuff to get it?

MERCE CUNNINGHAM: Well, they have to come, if it deals with our work, first of all, we have to have trained dancers and many of them have come from ballet training and that’s useful for us because they have strong legs. Then with us they need to learn things about the torso and these additions and the arms, and that takes a while. But if they do it and they work at it can work. It’s just a question of realizing what it is and that you have to learn it like you learned it with the technique of your legs. You have to learn how to use your body.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s interesting because sometimes training can prepare you, but sometimes training can get in the way.

MERCE CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think style is important, I always thought that. I think that when one equates technique with style, then that gets into trouble. I think there’s no question that what I do comes from me, but it wasn’t to make a style. I’ve tried to keep it as open as I could in terms of physical behavior because I can’t imagine, seeing it on a computer and then trying to get it across to a dancer.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now certainly it’s said with music, and this is an old cliché which isn’t always true but is true in some cases, but it’s very difficult for many conservatory-trained musicians who play the classical repertoire to relax and engage in improvisation. Now would be there parallel to that for a ballet dancer coming to you?

MERCE CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think dancers in general probably, are given to improvising on the ballroom floor, and most of them can do that kind of thing and enjoy it, as I do to with my computer.