Merce Cunningham was a force of nature in the dance world and a leading creative figure in the american avant-garde for more than 50 years. His collaborations, with artists such as andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, are the stuff of legend. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s executive time with him, going from one place to the director, Trevor Carlson, accomplished the precedent-setting feat of securing and celebrating Cunningham’s artistic legacy after the company’s founder died in 2009. The Merce Cunningham dance company will be performing onstage at Bass Concert Hall in March and Carlson is thrilled to visit the capital city for the first time.
Are you excited about this new partnership with Texas Performing Arts at UT?
This is the first time we’ll be performing there. it’s common for us to be involved in a performing arts program at a university, but this is our first time at UT. We’re able to have interactions with the students and the faculty on cam- puses and engage in things other than simply performing.
What’s an achievement that you’re most proud of in your time at the company?
Figuring out how the foundation would function after Merce was no longer here. how it related to what Merce wanted to happen with his company and the preservation of his work and creations. it speaks to–it’s a new example for other institutions to consider–in other words, the formalized closure of an organization after it’s founding artist is no longer alive.
What’s your biggest challenge?
The greatest challenge is actually relative to that. it’s not something i considered myself to be fluent in, but fundraising is an issue. i work most comfortably with the artists and making their vision practical and realized from a production standpoint. fundraising is certainly required in order to accomplish those goals. since becoming the executive director six years ago, it’s something i’m re- quired to do quite often.
Do you have a favorite style of dance that you like to watch?
I love to watch spanish flamenco and performing tango is great.
Are there particular artists you would like to work with?
I had a blast with Jonsi Birgisson, the lead singer of sigur ros. i would love to work with him again. The other person who i’d like to make contact with is a young man who was part of a workshop we were doing in 2003 named robert heishman. he had a lot of promise and was 18 at the time. he was a designer and i’d love to see what he’s going now.
Why is the cross-disciplinary work that you’ve done at Merce is so important?
When I started, I was a company manager. I was responsible for handling the scheduling of the company and of Merce. at that time, he was in his late 70s and needed, literally, a shoulder to lean on. I ended up being the shoulder that he leaned on. having that amount of time with him ,going from one place to the next, going to have dinner or attending events with visual artists and composers–I was sort of wrapped into this world with him and I was able to understand what engaged him. he was able to have a lot more exposure to a new generation of artists at a time, physically, when his body would not have allowed him to do that. i got to be his legs and eyes. and i got to be part of his world–we were fantastic friends and he was like a father figure to me.
What other future goals do you have?
My long-range goal is to continue to support artists. it’s important for new generations to have opportunities to express themselves and to show and create examples of what the world looks like through their eyes. for me, that’s been most interestingly captured through art.