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Merce Cunningham Dance Company

'Biped' and 'Summerspace'

September 28, 2001 -- Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, Festival International de Nouvelle Danse

By Marie

Performed by : Cédric Andrieux, Jonah Bokaer, Lisa Boudreau, Ashley Chen, Paige Cunningham, Holley Farmer, Jennifer Goggans, Mandy Kirschner, David Kulick, Koji Minato, Daniel Squire, Jeannie Steele, Derry Swan, Robert Swinston, Cheryl Therrien

Music : Morton Feldman (Summerspace), Gavin Bryars (Biped)

The FIND's presentation of Merce Cunningham felt like a history lesson to me. What is it that they say about how we must never repeat history? Sorry, my mistake, that has something to do with WWII. I know that when you are as established as Merce Cunningham is, it's probably unlikely that anyone ever tells you that they don't like your work. I know, Cunningham is a venerated choreographer, etc., etc., and I wish I could say I liked the performance because I'm feeling a good dose of Christian guilt as I write this, and I don't even go to church anymore.

I don't understand how Cunningham could have spent the last forty years creating such static, formal work. If I did not know that "Summerspace" was choreographed in 1958, I would have sworn that he used the software "Lifeforms" to create it because it had that same mechanical feeling as some computer generated work. The movement went from one difficult position to the next, the dancers straining all the while with little, if any, release in any of the transitions. Those dancers deserve a medal for undertaking such physically demanding choreography. Jumping over and over and over on one leg from a standing arabesque position can't be anything but work. You could tape sticks on to the dancer's spines and they wouldn't bend much. Flow is clearly not in Cunningham's vocabulary.

The movement in "Biped" was slightly softer than "Summerspace," which is interesting as this piece was created with a computer. The dancers still had to fight with the choreography though. Usually women look more fluid than men on stage but in this case the men actually looked better. I think their brute strength helped. I started to wonder how long dancers last in Cunningham's company before they succumb to injury. But I digress, this is not about the individual dancers, it is about capital A, "Art." I liked the motion capture images in the piece; they were powerful and gave the work some much-needed life. They flowed a lot more than the dancers on stage. The costumes for "Biped" were hideous silver creations, I think I've seen some of them in aerobic competitions where the women have big hair, tan coloured nylons and too much make-up on. The silver bed jackets and pajamas weren't much better. Most unfortunate to me was that it seemed Cunningham didn't really grasp the depth of Gavin Bryars' music. The dancers were always restricted to moving to the counts on the surface of the score, they were never allowed to explore the resonant sounds of the cello and double bass. I guess that's Cunningham's style.

Although I can appreciate Cunningham's reserved exploration of movement from an academic perspective, it never really moved me. I know some people will find that blasphemous, so I'll save you the sermon and go do my penance at the FIND's five hour choreographic marathon...


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Edited by Jeff.



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