Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Being Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham, famed dancer and choreographer, died over the weekend. He was a purveyor of the post modern era and reflected this time in dance. His choreography never ceased to evolve, taking clues from life itself.

"The most essential thing in dance discipline is devotion, the steadfast and willing devotion to the labor that makes the classwork not a gymnastic hour and a half, or at the lowest level, a daily drudgery, but a devotion that allows the classroom discipline to become moments of dancing too..."

-- Merce Cunningham

Being a great lover of dance, I used to sit in the New York Public Library, along with Jerome Robbins, another famed choreographer usually just a few seats away, watching film after film and still after still of Vaslav Nijinsky, George Balanchine, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, and Merce Cunningham.

These great dancers and choreographers have inspired me in my pursuit of excellence in the arts and business. May we forever remember their contributions and honor those who in our time in the arts and business seek to express themselves through non-traditional means. This is the birth of innovation.

Thank you, Mr. Cunningham. R.I.P


Bob said...

As a fan of American Ballet Theater I only saw one Cunningham ballet: Duets, twenty-some years ago. It was wonderful, and an introduction for me to the music of John Cage, as well.

Incidentally, if you love libraries of ballet, check out ABT's "dictionary" at

It illustrates hundreds of movements with short videos you can watch on your computer.

Judith Ellis said...

Oh, yes, Bob! I too am a fan of American Ballet Theater and I studied the music of John Cage as an undegraduate student at Michigan. (By the way, the composer William Bolcom was on staff when I was there.) That was a perfect marriage, eh? I am always intrigued how an era is defined by art or how art is defined by an era. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out for sure.

septembermom said...

Judith, thank you so much for sharing your love of dance with us. Dance is a form of poetry to me that ascends the highest peaks of pure connection with another. Rest in peace, master dancer.

Judith Ellis said...

Kelly - I love your words about dance being poetry. What a beautiful expression.Thanks, Kelly!

DB said...

Cage and Cunningham. Wasn't that a time, boys and girls, wasn't that a time !

Judith Ellis said...

For sure, dear sir! For sure!

dave wheeler said...


One of the terrific things about my having met your acquaintance is that your thoughts and words on poetry (Langston Hughes and Delores Ellis in particualar), dance, and music have made me gain a little more knowledge and appreciation for these art forms. Mr. Cunningham's "devotion to labor" is a life's lesson that would serve everyone well regardless of their vocation. Who knew?

Thanks Auntie "J" knowledge is a marvelous thing!

Judith Ellis said...

Dear Dave, friend

Thank you for mentioning my Mom's poetry. She was quite the poet and composer and her every deed and pursuit in raising us or creating works of art was a kind of "devotion to labor" through love. Such devotion as you've said "would serve everyone well regardless of their vocation."

If I have called you friend, you have touched my life in a particular way. It's been two years since I met you and you have taught me a lot through your words and deeds. I value you. I am blessed to call you friend.


dave wheeler said...


Please know that I too value you and blessed somehow doesn't completely capture how fortunate I am to be able to call you my friend...

Judith Ellis said...

Thank you, Dave.