Merce Cunningham Dance Company

'Loose Time' and 'Interscape'

by Lisa Marie Claybaugh

February 1, 2002 -- Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley.

Merce Cunningham is one of the art icons of the 20th century. His innovative approach to choreography and dance was a reaction to the narrative and politically charged dances that he had been dancing in. He changed the face of modern dance at that time. And he continues his work fifty years later.

I have often been fascinated by this vanguard of post-modernism. It appeals to the dormant mathematician in me. But I am also always impressed by the quality of his dancers. The next time some bun head-lover ignorantly states that all modern dancers are simply dancers who couldn’t do ballet, cite the Cunningham company as examples to the contrary. The technique is sparklingly clear, the physiques in top condition, and the accuracy impeccable. And because of the nature of the choreographic process, there is no organic flow of any kind. Any transitions are provided by the dancers themselves. They all exhibit an extraordinary ability to shift their weight and direction with split second timing, which shows a strong center and sense of groundedness without being too bound by it. I haven’t seen too many ballet dancers with that ability.

Cunningham’s work is all about the process. Much has been written about his use of chaos theory and randomness to guide his choreographic decisions. But Cunningham, unlike some of those who disastrously try to copy his style, understands that the end product is still important and that has made him so successful. He does not alienate his audience with a constant barrage of senseless movement. There is structure in the limiting of the vocabulary for each individual piece. And with no “message” to be communicated or understood, we are left to create our own subplots and contexts. Part of Friday evening’s pleasure was in watching the audience, which was filled with obviously devoted fans. The audience does tend to be a bit more intellectual looking than those for “Kiss Me, Kate”. And are they appreciative. Standing ovations all over the place.

The first offering was a premiere titled “Loose Time”. The costumes consisted of silver unitards, the scenery was a projection created by Terry Wolff (a series of overlapped and undulating grids), and the music was composed by past collaborator Christian Wolff. Visually stunning, this was a typical example of Cunningham, but with a slight relaxation in the movements than in other earlier works I have seen. The sixteen dancers were often repeating phrases in canon, and they spent quite a bit of the time dancing backwards. The juxtaposition of movement, visual art and music was at times completely in discordance and other times perfectly synchronized. The music came out of the pit or the strategically placed speakers in no discernable pattern, but each change heightened the awareness of it.

The second piece was performed the last time the company was in the Bay Area. My companion said that it looked a little different than the last time, and we decided that he could have seen it with the other piece of music. There are two pieces that are alternately played with “Interscape”: John Cage’s 108 or One8. We heard One8, a solo for cello. The scenery and costumes were provided by Robert Rauschenberg. A nice opening transition was provided by the curtain rising on a black and white scrim version of the art, while the dancers “warmed-up” behind it. As the scrim rose to reveal the scenery in full color, the dancers started in earnest. The partnering in this dance was particularly striking especially a duet by Cedric Andrieux and Lisa Boudreau. The only complaint was the unflattering cut of the unitards on the women.

On the whole the evening was a triumphant event. Merce Cunningham continues to prove that dance for the sake of making movement is still viable in a dance world that has again become obsessed with messages and stories. And we thank him for that. The evening’s largest applause came when the master himself stepped onstage to take a bow.


Edited by Jeff.

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