Today is Merce Cunningham Day in Chicago, thanks to a proclamation from the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel — himself a former dancer. Coinciding with this weekend’s performances at Columbia College, the decree celebrates the late “Cunningham’s extraordinary love of dance” and honors “the last dancers he chose and trained for the company.”
In addition to being President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, Emanuel is a dance enthusiast who turned down a scholarship from the city’s prestigious ballet and instead studied dance at Sarah Lawrence. He reportedly took ballet classes up until the birth of his second child. The New Yorker sums up his experience:
Emanuel received dance training in high school, and danced for a year at Sarah Lawrence after turning down a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School; as a freshman, he appeared in a modern-dance piece called “Desire.”
As mayor, Emanuel has promoted dance heavily, most notably through this August’s Chicago Dancing Festival. He was named an honorary board member of the Joffrey this June for being “a vocal proponent of elevating Chicago’s performing and visual arts community to even higher international recognition.”
In his proclamation, Emanuel noted that the Cunningham company — which brought its final Legacy Tour to the Walker early this month — has performed numerous times in Chicago, “a city that Merce himself stated has ‘wonderful audience for dance.”
“[I]t’s impossible not to be moved by this news,” writes New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay. “It’s thrilling to find a leading political figure showing this degree of appreciation for a historic moment in dance.”
Here’s the full text of the proclamation (pdf):
OFFICE OF THE MAYOR, CITY OF CHICAGO
RAHM EMANUEL, Mayor
WHEREAS, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company is making its final appearance in Chicago November 18-19 near the completion of an historic two-year, world-wide Legacy Tour; and
WHEREAS, the Tour will celebrate the creativity of American choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) and feature the final generation of dancers chosen and trained by Cunningham himself; and
WHEREAS, Cunningham’s lifelong passion for dance and his innovative choreography continues to inspire generations of audiences and dance artists, putting forth new concepts for the choreography, dance technique and artistic collaboration in concert dance; and
WHEREAS, over the past 60 years the Cunningham Dance Company has appeared many times in Chicago, a city that Merce himself stated “has wonderful audience for dance”; and
WHEREAS, it is fitting to honor Cunningham’s extraordinary love of dance, as well as honor the last dancers he chose and trained for his company:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, do hereby proclaim November 18, 2011, to be MERCE CUNNINGHAM DAY IN CHICAGO, and urge all Chicagoans to recognize many contributions made by Merce Cunningham Dance Company and its final generation of dancers trained by Merce Cunningham.
Dated this 3rd Day of November, 2011.