Fond Farewellsby David Vaughan
As I write, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company is coming to the end of a month-long domestic segment of its Legacy Tour, in Chicago. The Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, issued a proclamation declaring November 18 Merce Cunningham Day in his city. (He is, of course, an alumnus of Sarah Lawrence College, like dancer Rashaun Mitchell and production assistant Pepper Fajans, and like them studied dance there.) This leaves us with only four more venues—the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, and the Park Avenue Armory—before the company disbands after its performance on New Year’s Eve. We have had a wonderful two years of touring, to places where we have been before, in some cases many times, and to some where we have never been, notably Moscow. Merce always wanted to take his company to Russia, but it was not to be in his lifetime. In several places the last shows have been poignant occasions. Tears were shed in London’s Barbican Centre in October, both on stage and in the audience, when the curtain came down on BIPED.
As the tour has proceeded, we have seen the last of dances in the repertory: Crises left early, in Arizona, CRWDSPCR at the Joyce Theater in New York City, Nearly 902, Merce’s last work, at Stanford University during this tour. An MCDC tradition is the “leaving” show for one of its members, usually after her/his last class. On this tour dancers are not leaving the company, the company is going to leave them. But the tradition has been observed, two dancers at a time, every two or three weeks. These are intimate, hilarious occasions, with much affectionate ribbing of personal mannerisms and appearance, performance of certain roles, notable incidents on and off stage, etc.
Paradoxically, although the Legacy Tour has been a long goodbye, it has been a very happy time. There has been a remarkable spirit of camaraderie among the dancers, musicians, crew, staff. Everyone has been dedicated to presenting Merce’s work in the best possible way. I should like to name all of those who have been regularly on tour: dancers Brandon Collwes, Dylan Crossman, Emma Desjardins, Jennifer Goggans, John Hinrichs, Daniel Madoff, Rashaun Mitchell, Marcie Munnerlyn, Krista Nelson, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott, Robert Swinston (director of choreography), Melissa Toogood, Andrea Weber—and let us not forget Julie Cunningham; music director Takehisa Kosugi and the Music Committee, David Behrman, John King, Christian Wolff, and music coordinator Jesse Stiles; director of production Davison Scandrett, lighting director Christine Shallenberg, wardrobe supervisor (and company photographer) Anna Finke, production assistant and carpenter (and merchandise entrepreneur) Pepper Fajans; executive director Trevor Carlson, company manager Kevin Taylor and his predecessor Geoffrey Finger; Legacy Plan fellow Bonnie Brooks. Many have been accompanied from time to time by friends, relatives, and significant others. To quote Isak Dinesen, in her great book Out of Africa, “It was during those long days that we were all merged into a unity, so that on another planet we shall recognize each other.”
DAVID VAUGHAN is the archivist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.