Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Eugene Lim revisits the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance.
CONAN: How do you obliterate space and time?
Mr. JONES: Well, you know, sometimes, when I’ve had one tequila too many and I’m lying on the floor, I feel pretty obliterated in space and time. No, but I don’t think that’s what [Merce] meant.
—Bill T. Jones remembering Merce Cunningham, on NPR.
On the few last nights of 2011, I saw a series of performances that so moved and changed me that I thought to myself, This is the greatest experience of art I’ve ever had!
And yet because I didn’t have the training or the critical terms to note the details of what I’d seen—and even if I’d had them I’m not sure the soft muscles of my memory would have retained them—I have only emotional and murky impressions. A dance performance I know I once felt was a pinnacle of experience I now can only vaguely hold in mind, like a summer in a foreign city where you carried out a painless and shimmering affair—that is, something idealized and maybe romantic but shrouded and perhaps no longer real.
These were the final dance performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, on the nights of December 29th, 30th, and 31st in 2011. Prior to his death, Merce Cunningham created a remarkably prescient and meticulous legacy plan which, after his passing, would send the company on a two-year world tour. It would culminate with final performances in New York. Then, the company would disband.