J. L. The transition from one position to another seems to you the quintessence of dance itself. Is it the impetus of dance that is clarified in positions, or is it the dance positions that dissolve into movement?
M. C. In ballet, about two centuries ago, the positions were very clear, and probably came first.
J. L. I wonder whether the positions in the old language of classical ballet didn't come as a means of getting some fixity (fixed points) into something that was going too quickly.
M. C. I think in court ballet, it must have been positions that were established in the beginning. In folk, or country people dancing, it's the dancing. I mean they have steps to do, but it's the act of doing it, the dancing, however simple or elaborate it may be, that is most important. But in court dancing originally it must have been positions.
J. L. Two different choices: either you make positions and go from one to the other, even dancewise as you say, or you emphasize the energy and the movement, and somehow the positions punctuate it.
M. C. Yes, of course. The trick is to keep them both. They oppose each other but that's what makes them valuable, that's what will keep it lively. If you emphasize activity, steps, a lot of movement, but the clarity of the positions is not very great, that isn't very satisfactory. Now, if you keep that energy in it, clarify the positions more at the same time, that is especially interesting. Ordinarily what happens is that one or the other begins to get lost. The basic thing about dancing is the energy, and an amplification of it which comes through the rhythm, and if you lose that you end up in decoration.
J. L. But the energy in dancing, if you look at it through a magnifying lens, you can see it as a series of positions being undone.
M. C. Yes, of course.
J. L. It's a double, antagonistic movement: on the one hand this impulse to undo your position and on the other hand, another impulse to recognize something, fix it in however fleeting a position.
M. C. Isn't that the way life is?
(The Dancer and the Dance - Merce Cunningham in conversation with Jacqueline Lesschaeve)