Step by Step

Bird by Merce Cunningham
from Exercises, 2005 Exhibit at Katherine Nash Gallery, U. of Minnesota
“I just enjoy drawing. I don’t do it with any sense of it being art." -M.C.
Choreographers use drawing as notation, communication, documentation. Although dancers currently use video for documentation, notations by a choreographer's hand can capture particularly instructive essentials of complete movements that video might miss.

Merce Cunningham talked about his school training with John Tusa of the BBC,
"Well I had been a student at the Cornish School in Seattle , Washington which was a school for the arts, and I had gone to study drama, actually, and dance. But the woman who ran the school, a Miss Nellie Cornish , this remarkable lady thought that if you wanted to be in the arts, you should just as well know something about all of them. So we had as well as the dance and the drama we had music and visual training in drawing and diction and also to think, for which I've been grateful all my life." -M.C.

Stick men for ROADRUNNERS, 1979 by Merce Cunningham
From Margarete Roeder Gallery

But Cunningham drew for reasons beyond dance notation. In conversation with Gia Kouris of Time Out, he describes how he picked up drawing for pleasure —
Time Out: What's your favorite animal?
MC: Oh! I have lots of them. I make drawings. I have a marvelous book of Australian birds, and I'm drawing them now. They have incredible colors and wonderful names like the Husky Little Crow. The other day, I made a drawing of the Little Blue Wren.
Time Out: Why do you draw?
MC: I started, my, it must be 20 years ago. The company got up very early in Los Angeles to catch an 8am bus. Then they announced that the bus wasn't going to leave until 10am. Well, you can sit around and curse and drink coffee, but I didn't want to do that. So I was sitting in a room where a window looked out on this beautiful tree, and I thought, I wonder if I could draw that? And that's how it started. I do it every morning. I draw little birds and animals, and I love koala bears—they're just marvelous.
Eventually, those drawings became a book called Other Animals: Drawings and Journals, released in 2005, now out of print.

In 2002, when asked by Judith Mackrell at the Guardian what he spoke about with fellow choreographer, Mark Morris, Cunningham said
"We talk about drawing. That's what I do a lot now - it's such a good way to escape your problems." -M.C.
Drawing is good for many things!

Visit the Margaret Roeder Gallery to see more Merce Cunningham drawings.