Spring Mingling with Merce’s Animals

MerceCunningham

The following post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Her professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She maintains private practices in New York City and Brooklyn.

This spring, I have been carrying Merce Cunningham’s Other Animals: Drawings and Journals in my bag. Merce is world-renowned as a groundbreaking choreographer. Did you know he was also a visual artist? Flipping through his book, Merce’s creatures are playful, odd, and not surprisingly, drawn with a persuasion of physicality as if he was tempting them to jump right off the page! When reading journal excerpts which accompany the drawings, one can imagine how work and play might have co-mingled in his world.

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It was Merce’s routine to wake and draw animals and creatures before going about his other activities. His drawing practice began as a way to pass the time during an unexpected morning travel delay on tour with his dance company. That singular experience quickly led to personal time he looked forward to each day. As the joy of painting has recently entered my life over the last year, his sentiment deeply resonates:

One of the pleasures of drawing for me is the rapidity with which one ceases to have concerns about oneself. The intensity of trying to capture the line and the sense of something in nature becomes absorbing enough to hold all one’s attention.

Considering the benefits of meditative practices, it is my belief that his fearlessness in observing the world unfolding and changing around him as he drew contributed to how he kept his signature fresh spirit. His choreographic pursuits evolved organically as he was influenced by nature, music, visual art/design, technology, and contemporary culture. His work was never stale or derivative. He was ever-present as an artist (with a capital “A,” as my friend Liz likes to say!). I honor his approach and aspire to bring a similar comparative and open-source philosophy to my own life’s work.

As a teaching artist, I bring the work, musings, and inspirations of icons and collaborators into my classes and class preparations. I am fortunate that my work and play flow easily in this manner. I find endless resources to challenge teaching concepts while forging new relationships with my broader research into the mind/body arts. As a personal practice for spring, I have taken a cue from Merce and began an almost-daily practice painting loose and flowing watercolors. It has become a welcome companion to my morning tea and Manhattan skyline viewing routine. I look forward to the warmer temperatures arriving and taking it up to the roof!

Do you have an avenue for how your work and play might mingle? Do you have a time of day when you let your mind quiet into another focus or dream into a new flow? Spring is the perfect time to investigate how this might be possible for you.

I’ll use a couple of Merce Cunningham’s drawings to animate my suggestions:

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Discover a New Vantage Point

Days are getting warmer and the daylight hours are lasting longer. Spring is the perfect time to climb out of your winter nest and get back on your feet. Stand tall and look all around you. Stretch your legs and walk a new path to work or take a detour on your way home. Expand your field of vision to see what is out there in your world to inspire you. Maybe a new outdoor café popped up. Perhaps a new public park or art installation is underway where you can sit on a sunny day. Did a new building pop up on the skyline? What flowers are in bloom this week? When you recognize the growth and expansion in the world around you, you can more easily understand the impulses within which inevitably rise up this time of year. Strut your stuff and go for it!

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Appreciate Beauty

Climb up. Get down. Look more closely at the world around you. The phrase “stop and smell the roses” is not an arbitrary one. As you observe the beauty of spring growth in nature, take a moment to stop and appreciate it. Not only will this cause you to slow down and pause, you will also set new pathways in mind of practicing gratitude. You may then begin to interact with your peers and projects at work in a similar way. You may rediscover a creative project at home with new interest. Could your favorite window or the corner of your desk benefit from a bright green potted plant or a vase of spring flowers? By enhancing beauty in your surroundings, your inner landscape also benefits. Beauty in its truest form is not just an ideal. Appreciating beauty is a teacher for all of us. To pause in our busy lives and truly appreciate beauty means we are connecting to the present moment and that is a worthwhile pursuit.

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Speak Up

Don’t be afraid to share your inner desires for work/play balance with others. Maybe the winter quiet tuned you into something deep down in your heart that needs to be cultivated this spring. You might be surprised how many of your friends are also craving new outlets. The spring season supports the spirit of change, personal growth, and new adventures. When we give ideas vocalization, they become more real. By giving our thoughts audible sound, we also give them physical weight in the world. Only then can we consider how to bring them to life. Share your intentions for personal growth or creativity in your life with loved ones, and support your friends in their own investigations. You might be surprised how many inspired conversations and play dates you will have on your calendar!

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Be Fearless

You do not have to follow anyone else’s formula for an inspired life. Spring gives us much flux in weather patterns and the necessary earth and water to plant your seeds of growth. Plant as many as you wish and see what sprouts! Do you like to read? Do you like to draw? Would you rather run barefoot up a trail? What inspires you? If you don’t like to wake up and draw, then don’t. If you’d rather listen to your favorite heavy metal ballad while writing a poem, do that. There is not one way to awaken the personal dance of work and play. The only way to find this out for yourself is to experiment and investigate.

May spring be a season of personal discovery and growth for each of you! And when you need inspiration, simply recall Merce’s memorable creatures that embody the qualities of the season.

– TaraMarie Perri

Photos by Richard Rutledge. Drawings by Merce Cunningham from Other Animals: Drawings and Journals. 

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