The Evil Imp

Dust for Brains

The New York Times if often the place to turn for sober news coverage, informed editorials and a progressive voice or two. Unfortunately they get as slack as any other major paper when it comes to fawning coverage of the arts. The grandfather of dance, Merce Cunningham, one of New York’s perennial dance personalities, is the subject of the latest exercise in objective reporting.

The Cunningham company has announced plans for, what they call, “Monday’s With Merce” (come again? Ed!) Whereby once every two weeks the company will post a full-on documentary of the Cunningham company class online for the benefit of all mankind, or words to that effect. Each video will be available free of charge for anybody to watch and, presumably, learn Cunningham technique from the man himself.

Except of course you won’t be able to do that because the idea of taking a professional level class via a video link is patently ridiculous. Teaching class is a hands on experience which means touching, feeling and lots of other things our over protective society does not approve of! If anybody’s looking at it from that perspective please stop it now!

Not only will there be video of the class itself but interviews with Mr. Cunningham, the dancers and probably lots of oddball academics and historians because the whole project is being handled by New York University. By the time they are through with this project a total of 26 documentaries will exist.

The idea itself is fine, possibly even useful to some limited degree – particularly to dance students the world over who are forced to write essays about Mr Cunningham and his work – the problem is both the New York Times and the company come across as utter buffoons who just discovered the magic of electric power and the convenience of the horse-less carriage.

Trevor Carlson, the executive director of the company, is quoted as saying; “The actual hope became: How can we take Merce outside our studio without actually having to take him out? How can we bring what he does here, what we do here, to the outside community?”

Putting aside the comedic image of Merce Cunningham being “taken out” it took these guys more than two years to figure out the cryptic connection between digital video cameras, the internet and DVD’s. Make that three years, the whole project doesn’t go online until September this year. Article19 has been putting video online for 8 years now. Granted, none of that video has been of Merce Cunningham but I’ll bet all the money in my pocket if we did, very few people would want to watch it.

Nancy Dalva, a dance historian, says in the piece; “we can go get archival footage of ‘Beach Birds,’ which has the same circle in it, and show the same Matisse poster, which Merce saw in his dentist’s office before he made the dance.”

What Ms Dalva is describing is called editing, possibly one of the few things in the world that’s been around longer than Merce Cunningham himself. You have to wonder if these folks have been lurking in dusty New York studios for too long.

The whole project will cost more than $250,000 to produce and you can’t help wondering why they don’t make 26 documentaries of 26 different dance makers, perhaps that would be more useful? At least the dancers are getting paid for it but a lot of people would also be very grateful if they stopped acting like they just invented the wheel!

‘Monday’s With Merce’ (stop giggling at the back) starts in September.

[ The Cunningham Company ]
[ NY Times Story ]