Dancing with Merce Cunningham

Marianne Preger-Simon

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"[Preger-Simon’s] gossamer light memoir is about a season of calm weather, unbuffeted by worldly success. . . . She often reprints letters she wrote to friends or family—so the book can sometimes have the tenor of a cheery postcard even as she is taking part in historic events.”—New York Times Book Review
“In her insightful debut, former dancer Preger-Simon, a close friend and contemporary of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), gives readers an unparalleled view of a modern dance genius. . . . A sweet treat for dance and theater aficionados, as well as anyone interested in the arts."—Publishers Weekly
“In clear snapshots [the author] fashions a collage of life in the 1950s New York art scene, written with sincere, heartfelt admiration for Cunningham and the once little-known company’s journey to critical renown. . . . Preger has crafted a compelling personal narrative that may hopefully lead further discussions on Cunningham—an artist who keeps us, like Preger, continually returning to his work.”—Hyperallergic
“What Dancing with Merce Cunningham gives us is the generous and loving presence of its author, who understood the value of the work she was doing and the people who did it with her.”—Art Fuse  
“Fun, easy to read, beautifully written, and very informative. With humor, passion, insight, and clarity [Preger-Simon] shares many facets of Cunningham—his work, teaching, and influence on several generations of artists.”—Journal of Dance Education
“An important addition to the body of writings on Cunningham, one of the most important modern choreographers and creative forces of the American avant-garde. . . . Simply a pleasure to read.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Many dancers find that they understand better in retrospect what they had been part of. Few write with Preger-Simon’s blend of sensitivity and generosity.”—from the afterword by Alastair Macaulay, chief dance critic, New York Times
“[An] affecting new memoir.”—New York Review of Books
“A cross between personal memoir and cultural history—an insider’s look at a pivotal moment in American dance history.”—Elizabeth Zimmer, dance critic, Village Voice  
“Charming and moving. A delightful memoir of a woman’s 60-year relationship with perhaps the most important and innovative figure in dance in the second half of the twentieth century and a privileged introduction to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.”—Jay Caplan, Amherst College    
Dancing with Merce Cunningham is a buoyant, captivating memoir of a talented dancer’s lifelong friendship with one of the choreographic geniuses of our time.  
Marianne Preger-Simon’s story opens amid the explosion of artistic creativity that followed World War II. While immersed in the vibrant arts scene of postwar Paris during a college year abroad, Preger-Simon was so struck by Merce Cunningham’s unconventional dance style that she joined his classes in New York. She soon became an important member of his brand new dance troupe—and a constant friend.  
Through her experiences in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Preger-Simon offers a rare account of exactly how Cunningham taught and interacted with his students. She describes the puzzled reactions of audiences to the novel non-narrative choreography of the company’s debut performances. She touches on Cunningham’s quicksilver temperament—lamenting his early frustrations with obscurity and the discomfort she suspects he endured in concealing his homosexuality and partnership with composer John Cage—yet she celebrates above all his dependable charm, kindness, and engagement. She also portrays the comradery among the company’s dancers, designers, and musicians, many of whom—including Cage, David Tudor, and Carolyn Brown—would become integral to the avant-garde arts movement, as she tells tales of their adventures touring in a VW Microbus across the United States.  
Finally, reflecting on her connection with Cunningham throughout the latter part of his career, Preger-Simon recalls warm moments that nurtured their enduring bond after she left the dance company and, later, New York. Interspersed with her letters to friends and family, journal entries, and correspondence from Cunningham himself, Preger-Simon’s memoir is an intimate look at one of the most influential companies in modern American dance and the brilliance of its visionary leader.    
Marianne Preger-Simon lives in Whately, Massachusetts. She danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in its founding years, from 1950 until 1958. She remained friends with Merce Cunningham until his death in 2009.

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