50 Looks with Fever, performed by Phil Straus

Merce Cunningham choreographed “50 Looks” in 1979. The dance is 91 poses, randomly selected from his 50 Looks. In April, 2020, Patricia Lent, a former member of the Merce Cunningham dance company began posting videos to teach anyone and everyone…

50 Looks with Fever, performed by Phil Straus

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Merce Cunningham choreographed “50 Looks” in 1979. The dance is 91 poses, randomly selected from his 50 Looks.

In April, 2020, Patricia Lent, a former member of the Merce Cunningham dance company began posting videos to teach anyone and everyone how to do this dance. To me, it seemed like an excellent challenge for this sheltering-at-home time.

I didn’t know how far I could go with memorizing 91 random body positions. I started learning a few positions at a time — mostly on my roof deck in Philadelphia. I only practiced inside on rainy days. To my delight, in about six weeks, with a lot of repetition, followed by more repetition, I learned the dance.

The ironic part of this adventure is that I never watch dance performances. Random body movements, even if done with grace and incredible athletic abilities, have never interested me. I finished this incredible act of memorization, and I realized I had created something that means nothing to me. Oops.

I came up with two ideas to fix that. The first was to dance to music, and connect the transitions between looks to the beats of the music. The second was to tell a story in my head, and connect the looks and transitions to the emotions of the story. I went with #1. I started with Beatles music, moved to Jefferson Airplane, and then Cream.

In the end, I chose from my collection of Fever covers. That song by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell has been sung by hundreds of artists, and I have about 49 different versions. Eva Cassidy sings a thrilling version.

The view you’ll see is the eastern view from my roof deck on a windy, cloudy day in Philadelphia. Enjoy the changing light, the plants shimmering in the wind, Eva Cassidy’s voice, Merce Cunningham’s creativity, and the bizarre spectacular of this non-dance fan doing a dance.

Thank you for your attention,

Phil

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