Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rain, dance

The rain at 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011. Warm, overcast, humid; rain promised and rain delivered by late afternoon. A steady rainfall, quiet, perpendicular to the streets and sidewalks, and cooling.
Lots of rain delivered in the late afternoon.
I went to 9 West, the Solow building on 57th Street just a few doors west of Bergdorf’s and Van Cleef’s. I was going to lunch at “8½” with Patsy Tarr.

This is only the second time I’d been to this restaurant which is vast and spacious, and popular. There are a number of hedge funds and private equity firms with offices in the building, and so many of their executives conveniently lunch there.

Yesterday was very quiet, a typical mid-August day, although James Watson, discoverer of the Double Helix was lunching with a couple of businessmen. Nearby Senator Chuck Schumer was lunching, and at another table Edgar Bronfman Jr. and guests.

NYSD readers may be familiar with Patsy. She plays an important role in the culture of the city, although mainly unrecognized and unsung, which I’m sure is fine with her. I’ve written occasionally about Patsy and her work and interests – which is/are Dance.
Patsy Tarr in 1997 with Merce.
Patsy is a Dance Philanthropist, one of those actively committed supporters of Dance and specifically what is known as Modern Dance. Dance (and other arts) philanthropists are crucial components in maintaining the apparatus of the art – the people, the spaces, the event. Without them, New York would be barren.

How do you get to be a Dance Philanthropist? I think Patsy started out as a dance fan and then aspiring dancer, and then when she saw that performing would not be her strength, supporting the art would work.

For the past ten years or so she has been publishing a bi-annual dance magazine called 2wice. You’ve read about it here. The fans and followers of the dance world, like their compatriots in the opera world, are a select group who share a treasured sensibility – the dance. They are fans, students, performers, and your next door neighbors who are touched (often deeply) by the watching. Not being as personally interested in the art – although I enjoy the performances when I have the opportunity – I am always fascinated by how art evokes passion, emotion, loyalty and commitment in people. They lend themselves – often intensely – to it. Patsy has that.
Holley Farmer and Jonah Bokaer perform "Changing Steps: Floor Duet," choreographed by Merce Cunningham and featured in "Merce Cunningham Event," an iPad app published by 2wice. Video directed by Ben Louis Nicholas.
She is my closest connection to the center of this great New York world. So she educates me. When we lunch much of the talk is the dance and the dance world. Two major stories were covered in conversation. 2wice has launched its App which is available on iTunes. It will no longer be a print magazine but instead will be an App.

Its first issue as an App is about Merce Cunningham. It is called "Merce Cunningham Event,” and it’s a tribute to the man. The edit combines live-action video, interviews, historic dance photography originally developed in collaboration with Merce. The App is available for free downloads through iTunes. And it is beautiful.

Merce died two years ago at 90. He, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were friends and creative partners throughout their long lifetimes. Merce was the first “choreographer” who created dances not based on music. This seems ordinary today – because it is – but at its creation it was a First. John Cage’s music was created to accompany the performance, and Rauschenberg and Johns created the visual, with all of them contributing in many ways including bringing in other contributors, such as Warhol.

Merce, from the iPad app published by 2wice and available for free on iTunes.
Rauschenberg and Johns, as we know became rich and famous from their work as painters. It only enhanced their collaborations with each other, and the two men shared their wealth in keeping the Merce Cunningham dance company and the performances going when help was required.

The four led modern dance through the 20th century to its definition today. It’s a great story that now belongs to history and is only beginning to be cultivated.

Before Merce died he announced that two years after his death, after the final performances contracted had been performed, the company would be disbanded and would never perform under his name again. Individual dances could be performed contractually with the Merce Cunningham Foundation, but there would never be a specific company performing Merce Cunningham. The great collaboration of Merce and his dancers; with Cage, Rauschenberg and Johns, would have been completed.

This announcement came as a shock to many people, many of whom were concerned that this great man’s work would be lost to the future.

The last three days of this year in New York City, December 29, 30 and 31, will see the final performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, at the Park Avenue Armory. All tickets will be $10. This will be a milestone event in the history of American modern dance.
 

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