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Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group
HISTORY MATTERS: Fabrications (1987)
by Victoria Dombroski
January 18, 2011 -- Merce Cunningham Studio, New York City, NY
“History Matters” was a captivating dive into Merce Cunningham’s piece
entitled “Fabrications”, first danced by the entire company and Merce himself in 1987. The
insight on the creation of this piece is presented by a wonderful panel whose comments and
discussion will be summarized. They include Jennifer Goggans, a current company member;
David Vaughan, a Merce Cunningham Dance Company archivist; and former dancers of the
company, Patricia Lent and Dennis O’Connor. They intriguingly lead us into the historical
background of the piece, giving insight on the choreographic structure, ideas, and influences
of Merce Cunningham. He was able to bring forth such emotion and meaning, when looked at
simply it was mathematics, steps, and chance. Dancers from the Repertory Understudy Group
beautifully performed sections of this incredible work.
Merce began his journey developing this piece, danced to music by Emanuel Dimas Melo de
Pimenta, in 1986 and culminated his ideas throughout two notebooks. The title of his piece was
in regards to both meanings of the word fabricate. It can be defined as both to combine parts to
make a whole, and to invent or concoct. His first notebook consists of the sixty-four separate
phrases of movement he created to piece together this work; each numbered phrase referring to
how many weight shifts occurred. For example, phrase ten would consist of ten different shifts
of weight, which can be just stepping from one foot to the other. Another example, phrase forty
was a phrase of five weight shifts repeated eight times. The dancers demonstrated phrases five
and sixty-four, which noticeably had different senses of rhythm, direction, and dynamic. Phrase
five consisted of slower, sustained, and suspended movement; having a strong forward lunge
suspended back up into a slow developpe and beautifully shifted sideways into another deep
lunge. Phrase sixty-four however consisted of faster movement of prances with the foot coming
to a high parallel passé at the knee, to more prances in turned out passé and weight shifts back
and forth in second position releve. The audience is able to appreciate the beauty of the sustained
legs and gradual transfer of weight, to the electrifying and rapid transfer back and forth of weight
that keeps us involved in the swirl of energy.
The second notebook Merce kept was directed towards structure and continuity, and used a
chance method to pair these phrases together. Certain groups of phrases are for solos, duets,
trios, quartets, and sextets. This random method leads us to observe that chance using numbers
doesn’t necessarily result in cold and abstract dancing. The dancers performed fifteen minutes of
the twenty eight minute-long piece. Although we see the dancers in unitards tonight, the piece
was performed by the company in the past in forties-style dresses. This was then a treat for the
dancers as they were so used to what designer Dove Bradshaw humorously referred to as “tights
and lights.” The music seems as if it is two separate pieces, as there is a silence in the middle
where Merce’s solo would be. It is an electric composition with short wave radio sounds, giving
us a steady and drawn in sentiment that keeps us further and further focused in on the dancers.
The combinations of the phrases make a beautiful dynamic on the stage. The very beginning of
the piece starts with four female dancers in a vertical line upstage left, and a male and female
duet downstage right. Only the upstage dancers start moving initially, with slow, delicate arm
gestures creating an arc in front and in back of them as if moving through thick fog. They then
one at a time contract over and the duet starts with strong developpes, attitudes front and back,
and lunges at a faster pace that creates an appealing dynamic between both sides of the stage.
Further along in the piece there is a short duet, danced tonight by Suzanne Thomas and Timothy
Ward. She starts with a slow walk, that progresses to a run that looks as if a lift is about to
happen, when instead they simply touch shoulders and switch places standing face to face. They
then travel along with triplets and shifts of weight in second position releve with their upper
bodies binding right to left with the movement of their legs shifting in weight. A solo is then
danced by Christiana Axelsen as five dancers continue their movement of arabesques in plie
pivoting around to more leg extensions and deep lunges. She creates a vast circle of leaps around
the dancers and touches one dancer at a time during their movements as a group. The vision of
one dancer traveling through space with such leaps as the other dancers beautifully sustained
their slower movement was breathtaking. The ending of the piece has a truly poetic sense as
three dancers move across the front of the stage with strong and controlled legs in attitude as
they are contracted over, and shift around to developpe with a sweeping motion off the stage.
The method in which this piece was created is unique and precise, and yet stirs up a wide variety
of emotion and sensation in the viewers as they experience the result of such creativity.
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