Merce Cunningham Dance Company

'Fluid Canvas' and 'Interscape'

by TUK

10 September 2002 -- Barbican Theatre, London.

FLUID CANVAS (2002) First Performance
Music: John King, longtermparking
Décor Digital Artwork: Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser, Lifelike
Costumes: James Hall
Lights: James F Ingalls

Music: John Cage, One8 and/or 108 (1991)
Décor and costumes: Robert Rauschenberg, Interscape Mirage
Lighting: Aaron Copp
Cellist: Audrey Riley

Some dance performances leave shimmering images in the memory that transcend the ephemeral nature of the art form. It was not the frail figure of Merce Cunningham, standing onstage with his dancers as the final curtain fell, which left an indelible impression on the first night of the company’s season at the Barbican Theatre. Rather it was the breadth and depth of his artistic vision, the strength of which seems unaffected by the passage of time.

"Fluid Canvas", receiving its world premiere, commences with an almost statuesque poise, as the dancers form geometrical patterns against a backdrop of swirling points of light. The movement is grounded, flowing like a current across the space, broken by a single moment of turbulence, one dancer leaping into the air, before the calmness returns. Here the colours of James Hall's costumes under James Ingalls' lighting give them a fluidity of their own, changing from deep blues to shades of sea green. When a single dancer appears in mauve the contrast is jarring at first, but progressively resolves into a celestial harmony as more appear and blend into the ceaseless orbit. In contrast John King's soundscape jumps between intense dissonances and mesmerising simplicity.

The dancers move in independent patterns, allowing the observer's focus to shift, flitting between one spatial design and another. Yet rather than a sense of discord there is an underlying harmony that encompasses the whole image on stage. Once this harmony is broken the jagged edges of limbs and bodies, broken into patterns that shift through sharper more fractured dynamics, reveal a new tension within the choreography. Then there are the moments of simplicity and stillness, the most evocative and breathtaking feature of Cunningham's choreography. When nothing more is needed to convey the vision of the choreographer nothing more is used.

" Interscape" begins with the rich textures of a collage, formed out of intricately interlaced sequences of movements repeated along swift and slow pathways. A sense of joy radiates from the choreography and through the dancers, revealing touching images of humanity in the exuberance of the central male solo and the sensuality of the extended duet section. At this point the focus changes to synchronized groupings and duets that briefly shape the space before the shifting pattern moves on. The choreography exhibits a strong rhythmic counterpoint to John Cage's minimalist score, exquisitely realised by Audrey Riley, which under lays the visual complexity with dynamic contrast. Sudden eye contact between dancers at the start of individual sequences seems to set a shared metronomic pulse that helps them achieve the seemingly impossible, to maintain a sense of unison even when out of sight line. This is a great company, rich in ability and finely attuned both to the choreography and one another.

It was a shame that Tuesday night’s audience was not a younger one, one more likely to be intimately involved in the future of dance, because here was dance in its purist artistic manifestation, portraying intellect and imagination, rising above the mere constructs of movement into something all the more beguiling. By so doing it reaches out to a new generation who need and deserve to understand the power of the medium they are taking as their own and to give them the courage and inspiration to find within it their own means of expression.


Edited by Jeff.

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