Bay Area Memories

Karen Attix

I danced in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) from 1974 to 1976. Though only 2 years, I was fortunate to learn some of the classic repertory that is being performed by ballet companies worldwide which include:

Cross Currents
Changing Steps

I also performed in some amazing outdoor venues: the Palais du Papes in Avignon, France; the Herod Atticus in Athens, Greece; and the Roman amphitheatre in Caesarea, Israel. It was in Canberra, Australia that I treasure my most favorite Merce memory.  It was our day off and knowing that Merce loved visiting zoos, I arranged with our sponsor host to take us to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve outside of Canberra. I was in the back seat with Merce and as we approached the entrance an emu strolled forward and stuck his head right into the back window. For a moment, Merce and the emu locked eyes. They knew each other! Not only did they share that strange perched, lizard head with unkempt hair but they knew how much they loved their strange, lanky bodies and inhabited them with grace and elegance.

Recalling that magic moment over 43 years ago made me realize that Cunningham technique was about liberating that deep, almost limbic reptilian kinetic brain in the body.  All the ballet leg and foot work, the focus on the spiraled spine and the unpredictable but glorious head, arms and hands was to give you the courage and the foundation to be your animal self with every move perfectly instinctual.  It was also on this trip that I found John Cage looking in the ground for mushrooms and Merce spell bound watching kangaroos. As we left the reserve, he commented: “Those animals know how to jump.”

I loved watching Merce’s “Solo” from the wings as he transformed into a bird, a lizard, a mountain lion, a homosapien as if discovering the world and gravity for the first time.


Merce Cunningham Centennial Assemblage Screening
This program is part of the Merce Cunningham Centennial.