Jessica Thomson talks to Kristy Edmunds, Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, about this year's headline act Merce Cunningham: The Melbourne Residency.

Merce Cunningham: The Melbourne ResidencyThis is an exhaustive program – how long has the 'Melbourne Residency' been in the pipeline?
Essentially it's been a couple of years in the works. Once it was determined that we really wanted to go not just for the presentation of a work but a commitment to a spread of works, this was the year to do it. I've tried to leave as few stones unturned as I could.

Being able to devote so much of the 2007 program to Cunningham, an artist with more than 50 years output, is a great opportunity to do his repertoire justice.
Well, that's certainly an intention from me, curatorially, but also the company themselves. This is a major effort on the part of Merce and the entire dance company and their collaborators. It's not very often that you have a mini retrospective of a choreographer's work.

From such an extensive and exceptional repertoire, how did you, together with the company, decide what to include?
First, there's a certain number of works that the company actually can remount and re-rehearse. Then there's, 'What is Merce wanting to add into the mix himself?' And then there's the artistic director – myself – saying, 'Here's some of the pieces that I actually feel are going to be really vital and relevant to the Australian audience.' In the context of Melbourne, there are so many different independent choreographers here that have gone in so many different kinds of directions – they're quite internationally intersected. It felt really important to get a breadth of his choreography across an audience here.

What do you feel is the most exciting aspect of the residency?
Well, part of what's most exciting is that Merce is coming – that's a very big commitment for him. I think that part of the residency is actually designed for the audiences – and Melbourne – to contribute something back to him and the company that could become something else in the future, who knows?
{xtypo_quote_left}For decades he has risked, and consistently risked, unacceptability in order to give us something completely of the imagination{/xtypo_quote_left}
What do you admire about Cunningham and his work?
Well, not unlike what I admire in many artists, but with Merce in particular, I feel like he has chosen to not try and choreograph towards popular sensibilities, but instead to really draw upon the full capacity of his creativity. For decades he has risked, and consistently risked, unacceptability in order to give us something completely of the imagination, and skill of himself and the dancers. Because he's been able to sustain that persistence of vision over many decades, we now have had a chance as an audience to catch up. For somebody who would have started out his career with very small audience and a lot of critical feedback, to be recognised many decades later as clearly one of the most important contemporary choreographers of the last century and already this century – that to me is a path I think is extremely important to revisit and focus on.

It's fantastic to see both the visual art and music programs also acknowledging Cunningham's work, as his influence reaches far beyond dance.
Absolutely. Not only did he elevate the form of dance, he elevated the possibility of collaboration, and has a curiosity for all art forms – and the human imagination – in the extreme. (The Melbourne Residency) is an acknowledgement of the depth and breadth (of his work), as far as I can stretch my budget without turning the whole festival into just the festival of Merce Cunningham – which one could certainly consider doing many times over!

The Festival this year deals a lot with intersections and with collaborations – collaborations in unusual places. Merce is a master of initiating collaboration with the utmost respect for artistic freedom. Not using or employing or commissioning artists in service to one vision, but in terms of the conjoining of independent, free artistic expression. Which I also think is a profound trust of an audience – and this is someone who clearly has never distrusted our capacity to try things new and be adventurous and go somewhere they hadn't been before.

eyeSpaceDo you expect the residency will attract many interstate and international visitors?
Certainly. I mean it's not atypical for this festival to have quite a high amount of interstate and international visitation. Even on Merce's website and newsletter he's letting people know that this work is going to be coming here. I don't know how many more times we would see that, especially with him present.

It sounds like the company's really excited to be coming here.
Oh god, yeah – which is also really fun. It's very much, 'What else can we do while we're there?'

The Residency will also include a one off, free event at Federation Square.
We're really encouraging people to bring their video cameras and their mobile phones – however they document. They can make their own dance on film, basically. Then we can fire all of that over to ACMI, they're going to edit it together, and we will then contribute it from Melbourne as the document to the Merce Cunningham dance archive.

Merce Cunningham: The Melbourne Residency forms part of the 2007 Melbourne International Arts Festival. For further information click here»

Photo Credits
Top Right
Merce Cunningham. Photo - Annie Leibovit

Bottom Right
eyeSpace (2006)
Dancers - Cédric Andrieux, Jonah Bokaer, Brandon Collwes. Photo - Anna Finke

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