Merce Cunningham

Proportional Beauty, and Action - Autumn 2006

“a body in motion is a body in thought…”(1)

Leonardo was looking for vital form, and analogy. He was constantly searching for a universal system of proportion that would explain the fundamental workings of forces. Further, he was the first to tie the artist’s notion of proportional beauty into the wider setting of proportional action of all the powers in nature. (2) 

Proportional action is at the core of my being; it determines all that I do. From my mind, where I experience proportion as numbers and rhythms, through my body onto the sheet, proportional beauty gets marked out. In this way I show that man can be measured, and that my measure is my reach as performed in real time.



1. Martin Herbert, ‘To See a Body Think: three essays on the work of Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham and Karole Armitage’. Modern Painters, December 2006–January 2007, pp. 100–07.

2. These thoughts were distilled from ‘Renaissance Man’, a book review by Adam Gopnick, in The New Yorker, 17 January 2005, pp. 82–86. One of the books reviewed was by Martin Kemp, whose exhibition of Leonardo’s drawings at the V&A, September–December 2006, was very much in mind that autumn.

Winter Statement - 30 March 2006

My practice is not about reduction. The increasingly simple, yet complex, forms in the work are a marking out, in time, of an inner choreography: I draw out the numbers and rhythms as directly as possible. Changes in form are nothing but shifts of choreography.

“Dance is an action AND a thing.” Charles Olson, 25 May 1952, in a letter to Merce Cunningham