Since 1935, 92Y’s Harkness Dance Center has been an historic home of modern dance, supporting the talents of pioneers like Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey and José Limón. As part of this year’s Harkness Dance Festival (March 1-30), we present photographs by James Klosty and Stephanie Berger to create a conversation between two eras of one of the dance field’s most important artists: Merce Cunningham.
James Klosty’s black and white photographs (1968-1972), taken during the golden years of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, tell the story of the radical experimentations and collaborations between a powerful nexus of personas, and of Cunningham not only as a choreographer but also as a dancer at his peak. We see, through Klosty’s unfettered access, icons of the avant-garde—John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns—interacting and creating art with Cunningham as the company rehearsed and toured the world redefining dance and influencing younger artists for generations.
Klosty writes that his intention “has not been to document or ‘illustrate’ Cunningham’s dances … dancing is a process far less understandable … than the arresting, gracious, somehow comprehensible form the dancer’s body assumes upon a piece of paper …. While photography is literally a timeless art—what’s left when time is taken away—dancing’s very being is time … For this reason my focus is not dancing but an association of artists … (and) the current almost palpably surrounding the man, charging his work, informing every aspect of that world which, by his presence, he defines.”
In contrast, Stephanie Berger’s vibrant color photos feature the last company of dancers with whom Cunningham worked, and capture a later generation of collaborators, many of whom have gone on to their own choreographic careers, like Dylan Crossman, highlighting the impact of Cunningham’s legacy. Berger’s photos emphasize the heights of the jumps, the quickness of the steps, the geometry and precision of the dancers that are stunning for their virtuosity and unpredictable forms. As technology advanced with digital cameras, time speeds up and the crispness of pixels contrast with the grain of film.
Berger writes, “I photographed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers many times, during dress rehearsals and live performances, including their two-year residency within the site-specific galleries at Dia:Beacon and the company’s “Final Events” performances at the Park Avenue Armory. I am still in awe of Merce’s collaborations with artists and the cutting-edge innovations he created even as he approached his nineties. Responding to the sounds and shifts of tempo, I looked for moments that articulated the dancers’ expressivity and form, to show tension and energy, stillness and movement that frame the genius of his choreography and bring the viewer back into the experience of these performances.”
Through the lenses of both Klosty and Berger, we see the timelessness of Cunningham’s work, and how his many collaborations inspired a legacy that will influence art and choreography of the future.