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SGN writer remembers Merce Cunningham, dead at 90 July 26
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SGN writer remembers Merce Cunningham, dead at 90 July 26

by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid - SGN A&E Writer

It was late fall in Chicago, and I worked for my then-school paper at Northeastern Illinois University, and somehow we'd gotten an invite to see the new, splashy dance performance which was a collaboration by world-renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham, designer Oscar De La Renta (costumes for the dancers), and the music of Frank Sinatra. Yes, quite the opportunity, my friends, for a college junior on a student's budget.

Of course I wanted to go, loving ballet and modern dance since I was a little girl, but this was late fall in Chicago. The weather was very cold and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, as well as ice sheets on the sidewalks and the streets.

I tried to persuade my then-boyfriend and managing editor of our paper to go with me, but he refused. I made for the bus and did indeed get to the theater in time to see Cunningham himself walk up the side aisle to the stage for one of the dances.

I was close enough to smile at him, and I think he smiled back, and I remember thinking how delicate and yet how sprightly he looked, eyes sparkling from that dark aisle. Then he was on stage, dancing with the much younger dancers, and my mouth fell open. I was amazed and knew I'd made the right choice to be at this performance.

As wide-eyed as someone who watched Nureyev and other greats dance in black and white programs on my grandmother's home television, I watched the dancers in their glorious Oscar de La Renta gowns and listened to the Frank Sinatra music with sheer joy. The Cunningham performance and seeing the man himself will always stay with me.

I saw another of his performances when I moved to Seattle. What I remember most is how elegant and dedicated a dancer this man was, even as he was fragile in older years. To me, a would-be dancer who writes instead of those who do dance, there will be a great hole in the fabric of the dance world now that Cunningham is gone. Viva to one of the truly magnificent artists of our time.

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