Merce Cunningham at The Tate Modern, 04/11/03
Descending the ramp in to the vast concrete Turbine hall, it takes a little while to register that Olafur Eliasson’s gigantic sun is not a full circle, but rather a semi circle reflected in a mirrored ceiling.
In this reflection we see ourselves, the audience, milling around the space amidst smoke machines and soft, greyish lighting. The music begins; scraping, growling strings unnerve the audience before the dancers appear and march to one of three square dance floors, positioned below the gallery upon which the musicians sit, and over which, Eliasson’s sun beams artificially down.
The installation art work is an ideal setting for this all encompassing dance piece, where the surroundings, the audience and the dancers all become equal components of the performance environment. The audience shifts from floor section to floor section, as do the dancers as they arc, jump and lunge in sequence, flitting between the spaces.
The spectators become as much a part of the performance as the dancers – they are the pattern border on the ceiling mirror canvas. As the music becomes more tense and discordant, the audience seems to move more quickly between the performance areas, slowing again when the music calms. There is a sense of everyone moving to their own timing – the dancers and the musicians certainly, and the audience influenced by both.
Each angle from this promenade performance provides a new perspective and it is especially thrilling to have a birds eye view in the ceiling – something usually only made available through the use of film. Choreographic elements such as isolation and grouping of the dancers are made more prominent by the parallels or juxtaposition of the audience - endless possibilities, parallels and view points are created by the encapsulating nature of the performance experience.