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Merce Cunningham Dance Company

'Pictures' and 'Interscape'

by Diane Busuttil

August 2002 -- Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, Tanz in August Festival 2002.

Merce Cunningham emerged from another of histories great dance institutions, Martha Graham, where he performed as a soloist before begining his own choreographies in 1944. Almost 200 works have been choreographed by him since then, and now in 2002 we celebrate the 50th Anniversary for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. It true that he is no less than a living legend, having influenced the very basic structures of the way we learn and think about dance. He has collaborated with many significant artists such as: John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. He has won a series of awards from Venice, New York, Ohio, London and in France was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. Books have been written about him, exhibitions of his work shown at museams and thousands of young dancer across the world are inspired by his physical technique and approach to dance and movement.

As a dancer who has never seen the company perform live, I knew that to witness his work is to be taking part in a slice of dance history. The theatre alone is so elaborate and grandiose as to mark such a significant occasion with opulent trimmings. As the murmer of the awaiting audience subsides, the theatre goes pitch black before opening on a quiet scene of calm unfolding movement set to the serene sounds of D. Behrmann. The dancers were de-sexualized, almost de-humanised by the rigidity of the technique that leaves no room for personal expression. The dancers gliding through a state of mechanical flow, like smooth machinery each small cog operating in consiquence to the entire framework. The audience were gently reminded of their humanity only when a dancer wobbled off balance or was slightly out of unison with the group.

The lights changed periodically to sillouette the dancers small vignettes of supported postures, which appear to be incredably physically arkward, yet the entry and exit point was always executed with airated flow. This physical tension seemed to carry throught to Interscape, where you could see the development in the movement language over almost 20 years. Only dancers that have trained for many years in this rigid technique have the skill to find a sense of flow and breathy motivation within the confines of the choreography. And only when I witnessed flaws of imperfection was I able to grasp the sheer physical strength this technique requires.

The most endearing moment is when Merce arrives on stage for the bow line, shuffling graciously towards the audience with his walking stick. This is the picture that shall remain in my memory.

Edited by Jeff.

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