Not Ready for Answers

merce cunningham 1

‘My new life began’ … Valda Setterfield with Merce Cunningham. Photograph: Babette Mangolte, courtesy of the WAC.

Merce Cunningham comes across in these recollections of his dancers as a man who spoke volumes in few words. “Don’t make everything so pretty” and the terse statement that answers demand questions cover about ninety percent of art and life, in my opinion.

My mother always said I should smile more, and my teachers said I’d get a job if I was more personable. But at one point Merce said to me: “Don’t make everything so pretty.” And I suddenly thought: “Thank God I can drop all that stuff.” I was lucky – Merce and I found ways to really talk to each other, and that wasn’t true for everyone. He always said: “I don’t tell people what to do. If they don’t ask me questions, they’re not ready to hear the answer.” (Valda Setterfield, dancer)

(Lindsey Winship [Interviewer], “’He said two things to me in five years. And one was thanks for the cheese’ – Merce Cunningham,” The Guardian, 4-15-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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