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Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010-11 Legacy Tour
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon May 10, 2010 6:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010-11 Legacy Tour

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company performs "Roaratorio" at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, June 4-6, 2010. Preview in Broadway World.

Broadway World

Author:  David [ Sun Oct 31, 2010 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

Nearly Ninety
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Barbican Theatre, London; October 26, 2010

by David Mead

First thoughts when the lights play on the white scrim to partly reveal Italian architect’s Benedetta Tagliabue’s angular, construction that serves as a backdrop and a home for the musicians in “Nearly Ninety” are of a desolate industrial landscape, of an empty factory full of twisted steelwork. But as it turns, the lights change and videos are projected on it, new perspectives are revealed and more and more it recalled images of ships and the sea. In fact, the original idea came from a small piece of rock resembling a glass mountain that reflected and refracted light, but at times the structure really did resemble some weather battered old sailing ship, its rigging and sails all torn. As the piece went on, though, the memory of standing beneath some old wharf or pier at low water, of looking out at its jumble of wooden and metal stilts, of the shadows and the sunlight glinting off the water, became increasingly strong. It all combined in an irresistible beauty. And therein lay part of the problem with “Nearly Ninety”; the set and lighting effects are too often dominant, especially in the first half, and all too often take away from the dance happening in front of it.

The score, jointly composed by alternative American rock band Sonic Youth, founding member of Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones, and Japanese composer Takehisa Kosugi, seemed sometimes to have maritime connections too. It is full of computer generated noises mixed with some great guitar work. It is texturally complex, even if sometimes discordant. The latter is hardly surprising given that each composer independently composed around 40 minutes, with the three scores then being interposed and overlapped over the performance. But were those the clangs of a working dock alongside the soaring cries of seabirds? And although, in typical Cunningham style, so much chance was involved, it was impossible not to see connections between the music and the dance.

The dancers arrive gradually in pairs, criss-crossing in unusual ways. Dressed in their sleek ecru unitards with charcoal patches and stripes by fashion designer Romeo Gigli, the mind wanders back to “Beach Birds,” The choreography plays with ever changing duets and trios, the former being particularly compelling. There is much variation on attitudes and arabesques, often bent and twisted in unusual ways. So often the woman finds herself supported as she tips beyond her balance, sometimes being held right on the edge for what seems like ever. It seems the dancers are always looking for new and inventive ways to take weight. Much of what happens is slow and deliberate, but as if caught by a sudden breeze there is an occasional burst of leaping or staccato sharp petit allegro. At another point Julie Cunningham zips around random like a water boatman skimming the surface.

The second half reveals Tagliabue’s metalwork in all its crazy glory, and the musicians on hidden on its many levels. A few screens allow us to see how some a metallic rumbling and banging turns out to be bearings rolling around on a metal tray. Now we can see the set fully though it loses much of its mystery, and so does the work as a whole. But just as you start to drift off, something new catches your eye. A sort of gangplank descends from the set on which Julie Cunningham dances a difficult solo, but sadly for her the eye is taken by the even more alluring dance being performed by two duets below; a dance where some brief glimpses of personality emerge.

Out of the blue, it ends. “Nearly Ninety” is classic Cunningham, but there was an overwhelming sense of having seen the dance before. And although much of it is performed off balance or on one leg, there seemed to be far more noticeable wobbling than might be expected. It would be interesting to compare this version with “Nearly 902,” the later restaged and slightly shorter version presented against a black backdrop with new costumes and lighting. Would the pared-down production bring greater clarity and sense of wholeness to the dance itself?

The performance was part of the company’s final Legacy Tour. “Nearly Ninety” is a largely satisfying production, but it is far from the memorable goodbye hoped for. Fortunately there is one more visit to come. Then it really is adieu.

This review, with images, will appear subsequently in the magazine.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay profiles Cunningham dancers and their unique attributes.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Mar 07, 2011 9:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

Alastair Macaulay reviews the March 2011 performances at the University of California at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall in the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Sep 17, 2011 12:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay writes a feature on the final months of the Cunningham Company.

NY Times

Author:  David [ Sun Oct 09, 2011 2:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Legacy Tour
The Barbican Theatre, London; October 5-8, 2011

David Mead

When it came to the final night of this final ever London season by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company there was bound to be something of a sense of sadness that we would never see the company again. But the three programmes spread across four days were also very much a celebration of Cunningham’s work in all its guises, from the fun of “Antic Meet”, receiving its London premiere 53 years after it was made, through the uplifting “Roaratorio” and the pure dance of “Second Hand”, another London first; the nature-connected “Pond Way” and “RainForest”; and finally to the unbridled joy and digital genius of “BIPED”, still one of the most outstanding multimedia pieces ever made.

The week also showed just how much Cunningham was more than a choreographer of movement. He was an artist who brought together equally eminent modernist creators from other fields in rich collaborations, including in this week alone, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Brian Eno. Usually, all he gave them was the length of the piece. The rest was up to them. What is amazing is that when the totally independently created designs, music and choreography were put together, somehow they formed a coherent whole.

Cunningham loved television nature programmes and “Pond Way” very much reflects those films. It really is like watching water insects skimming across the surface of a pond, every small movement clearly defined, just as in those documentary close-ups. So often individual dancers all move differently, all facing different directions, but equally all connected by being engaged in the same activity. Every so often there’s a scattering, as if someone, probably Merce, has thrown a stone in the water, before, slowly, order returns. The atmosphere is added to by Brian Eno’s score in which I’ll swear you can hear water dripping, and an abstract of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Landscape with a Boat” that suggests ripples and a surface flower. The only downside is Suzanne Gallo’s over-fussy costumes. The women’s tops in particular make them look more like something from a Grecian frieze, but the biggest issue is their lightness, which magnifies every shake and wobble.

“Second Hand”, from 1970, is all about the dance and nothing else. It’s classic Cunningham in every sense with no sense of narrative and no décor to speak of, although it is given an impressive dose of colour thanks to Jasper John’s costumes, each dancer dressed in a unitard of a single and different colour save on one arm or leg where another blends in. Particularly moving was Robert Swinston, now in his sixties, especially in a duet with one of the younger women. It was almost as if one was watching Cunningham himself, always looking, always searching, and full of slightly hesitant, tentative movement.

The title, incidentally, came about after the Erik Satie estate refused John Cage permission to use the composer’s “Socrate” in any form. So he created a new work, tongue in cheek called “Cheap Imitation”, with the structure of the original, but in which the actual notes played were determined by chance operations.

Given the immediate connection it made with the audience, it seems odd that prior to the Legacy Tour “Antic Meet” had not been danced since 1969. Drawing on Cunningham’s vaudeville background, it’s a series of ten witty encounters and comedic scenes. For many who are more used to Cunningham’s straight-faced total abstractness this all comes as quite a shock. Adding hugely to the fun are Rauschenberg’s witty costumes and designs that include fur coats, parachute dresses, a grossly oversize knitted jumped with too many sleeves but no hole for the head, and, most famously, a chair strapped to a dancer’s back. The music is a version of John Cage’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Andrea Weber of Merce Cunningham Dance  Company in Antic Meet. Photo Anna Finke.JPG
Andrea Weber of Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Antic Meet. Photo Anna Finke.JPG [ 75.19 KiB | Viewed 28338 times ]

It is full of weird and wonderful invention. Sometimes it is downright absurd. The deadpan comedy recalls the silent movies of Buster Keaton. But there are other crazy moments too: a huge box crosses the stage, a door comes on and becomes an entrance for one of the women, and two other women perform ballet steps most meticulously while throwing things at each other. One of the men, having chased after a lady, produces an artificial bouquet from his sleeve. But he’s rejected and so buries his head in the bloom sin a Chaplin-like gesture. There’s even a send up of Martha Graham.

There was more fun the following evening in “Roaratorio”, a sort of Cunningham meets Riverdance inspired by “Finnegan’s Wake”, James Joyce’s notoriously difficult novel. Charlotte Kasner has written in more detail elsewhere but suffice it to say that the dancers were quite outstanding.

And then there’s Cage’s score that mixes all manner of everyday sounds including dogs barking, babies crying, church bells, guns firing, trains, traffic, crowds and snatches of text from the book with Irish jigs and folk songs. It’s like being at an indoor ceilidh with half a dozen windows open, each to a different world, the noise from each magnified many times. Against this cacophony, but independent of it, Cunningham conjures a host of postmodern jigs and reels, promenades and waltzes. Their very fast footwork was faultless. We are so used that seeing Cunningham’s dancers looking straight faced, yet here there are smiles, laughs, and yes, they are having fun. It brought the house down.

The final evening opened with “RainForest” in which the dance, music and designs invoke thoughts of and symbolise flora and fauna without ever being literally representational. David Tudor’s score is packed with what sounds like birdsong and animal sounds, although the piece is probably best known for Andy Warhol’s installation “Silver Clouds”, a large number of helium-filled, floating Mylar pillows that act as décor. They also provided some amusement for audience as, thanks to a small draught, a number migrated slowly but quite determinedly into the front right of the auditorium.

And so to “BIPED”. If you could select one piece to remember Cunningham by, this would probably be it. The dance moves from slow, quite formal sections, to joyous, fast sequences, packed with complexity, although sometimes so much is going on that it’s difficult to really appreciate just how complex it is. The dancers, dressed in metallic leotards, often enter and leave through curtained booths at the back of the stage, making it seem as if they appear from nowhere.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Biped. Dancers (l-r) Holley Farmer, Lisa Boudreau.  Photo Stephanie Berger.jpg
Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Biped. Dancers (l-r) Holley Farmer, Lisa Boudreau. Photo Stephanie Berger.jpg [ 15.53 KiB | Viewed 28338 times ]

The digital projections add layers to the real-life dance on the stage. On this occasion the guaze they are projected on to also gave a sense of distance, as though the company was already leaving and we were in the process of saying goodbye. Which, of course we were. You just didn’t want it to end, but the, almost without warning, they were gone. The ovation went on and on.

With the Legacy Tour fast drawing to a close, Cunningham’s company will soon be disbanded, just as he instructed. That decision is understandable. Better, surely, to be left with memories of excellence than have the troupe become a living museum, or even worse turn into a pseudo-Cunningham company as new choreographers attempt to continue his aesthetic and invention, an approach surely doomed to failure.

The works will be preserved by the Merce Cunningham Trust, which has created a digital archive and detailed “dance capsules” for some 80 pieces that will be available to be restaged by other companies with permission. It’s a little like having the Balanchine Trust without New York City Ballet. It is a risk. Performances are bound to attract criticism. The pieces will inevitably look different on dancers less immersed in the Cunningham technique. But what is authenticity anyway? All choreographers’ works change with time; changes in training and bodies see to that. The ballet classics as seen today do not look as they did yesterday, and neither should we expect them to. Perhaps a more pertinent question is just how many companies will have the resources to dance his works anyway. And will they want to?

The technique does appear safe, for the time being at least. Speaking before the opening night, Trevor Carlson explained that although the Cunningham Studio at Westbeth is closing, classes in his technique will be offered at City Center (where the Trust is to have its offices), the Mark Morris Dance Center and Dance New Amsterdam.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour continues to:
Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA; October 27-29
Stanford Lively Arts, Stanford, CA; November 1
McGuire Theatre/Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; November 4-6
DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, November 10-12
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL; November 15
Dance Center at Columbia College and the Harris Theater, Chicago, IL; November 18-19
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC; December 2-3
Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY; December 7-10
Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, France; December 15-23
Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY; December 29-31

Author:  David [ Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

Sarah Crompton asks whether Merce Cunningam's plan to preserve his legacy will succeed - or should we leave it to simply be of its time.

Daily Telegraph

Author:  David [ Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

Barbican Theatre; October 6th, 2011

by Charlotte Kasner

Harlequin pied legs, adage that betrays the Cecchetti legacy, surround soundscape, a movement and aural stream of consciousness, Irish heritage…Cunningham and John Cage's tribute to Joyce's “Finnegan's Wake”, “Roaratorio” has it all.

The movement is seamlessly, technically accomplished and appears effortlessly light, effortlessly strong. Poses are rock solid, terre a terre work precise and fleet. This is one occasion where the fusion of ballet and modern technique provides a perfect synthesis to accomplish physically this most literary of works. It truly is Joyce in 3D, the costumes an artful creation of crafted rehearsal leotards, t-shirts and leg warmers, beautifully lit by Mark Lancaster and Christine Shallenberg with a suggestion of the contrasts of a sunny Dublin day. It literally provides light and shade to the movement that so beautifully matches Cage's sound scenario. Voices crept up on the ears from all around, creating the sensation of being in a snow dome with the snow replaced by sound waves… a snatch of text, squalling brats in a tenement, road drills, Gaelic music, falling and rising, falling again… spliced together from 2,462 recordings made in places mentioned in “Finnegan's Wake”.

Feet twinkled, bodies writhed and stretched in an endless loop of movement that sometimes slowed, then speeded up in precise jumps and doubles work like a living Brueghel painting of brightly coloured, intermingling humanity.

This is Cunningham at his timeless best and showcases the Company, soon to be disbanded, in a fitting tribute to one of the pioneers of modern dance. Seeing a work like this might make one question the wisdom of Cunningham's wish that the Company should not continue long beyond his demise, but perhaps he was right. Cunningham technique may survive Cunningham better than Graham technique Martha Graham because of its rock solid Cecchetti ballet roots, seen in “Roaratorio” in the adages and preparations that enables it to be an extension of ballet as well as moving forward with the moderns. Graham's work was however, largely created on Graham herself was a reaction against ballet, her Company now looking positively balletic and her pieces dated. The existence of a trust that can temper revivals should ensure that we have not seen the last of this work but that it is not allowed to decay and decline as Company members become further removed from the creator.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 24, 2011 1:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

The Cunningham Legacy Tour arrives at Seattle's Paramount Theatre on Thursday and Saturday, October 27 and 29, 2011. Michael Upchurch talks to nephew Michael Cunningham and choreographer Donald Byrd and former Cunningham company member Patricia Lent about Merce's legacy for the Seattle Times.

Seattle Times

Jean Lenihan and Michael Upchurch review Merce Cunningham's life.

Cunningham biography

Michael Upchurch talks to Donald Byrd about his efforts to ensure that the Cunningham Legacy Tour would include a stop in Seattle.

Donald Byrd interview

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

In the Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman is preparing for the Cunningham Company's December 2-3, 2011 appearances at the Kennedy Center by reading Carolyn Brown's 2007 memoir, "Chance and Circumstance."

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

In the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch reviews the Thursday, October 27, 2011 performance of "XOVER," "Quartet" and "BIPED" at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

Seattle Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Oct 30, 2011 5:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010 Legacy Tour

In the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch reviews the Saturday, October 29, 2011 performance at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. including "Duets," "Rain Forest" and "Split Sides."

Seattle Times

Author:  Dean Speer [ Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010-11 Legacy Tour

Going To See Merce
Saying Farewell To A Legend
Merce Cunningham Dance Company, 29 October 2011
Paramount Theatre, Seattle

by Dean Speer

“Are you going to see Merce?” is the colloquial expression we all have used when checking in with each other to see if we were attending performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. I was asked this again just the other day by one of his nieces and am happy to report that, yes, I was able to go to “his” last show in Seattle as the MCDC winds down its national tour during its last year.

Culturally and historically, we have tended to think, particularly in modern dance circles, of a personality associated with companies – “Did you see Martha’s last season?” “What did you think of Trisha’s latest work?” We don’t think of ballet companies in this manner for the most part, except for the few cases where the repertory is exclusively and predominantly the work of one individual. This phrasing also suggests collegial affection and implied support --dare I even say a kind of familial love not found elsewhere. Hence, we commonly address each other (and each other's works) by first name in this profession.

Thus, “Are you going to see Merce?” brings up and recalls memories and feelings of first-hand experiences but also those inferred and much-storied. My personal first was his [MCDC] residency at Cornish College in 1977 where many of us got to work and take classes with and next to Merce himself and his Company – all of whom I found to amazing dancers and artists. During this residency too, one dance was premiered at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall. Adding to the mix were two performances of the music of John Cage – a voice recital by the renowned and very talented singer Marni Nixon and the other a “performance” of music scored for car radios, conducted in the Cornish College’s parking lots by its then-President, Melvin Strauss, both attended by Cage himself. The aleatoric nature of his work was made even more so by the fact that the score was written with New York radio station frequencies in mind, so tuning cues to certain places resulted in either tacet sounds or the unexpected. Each car had two occupants – one to tune, and the other to watch the conductor I suppose.

There is also the belief that – so paraphrase Doris Humphrey's comment that “All dances are too long,” – that all dances are autobiographical. To see Merce’s work is to see the artist and get to know him.

The second is getting to know his peer Nelle Fisher [they had been in the Martha Graham Dance Company at the same time] who reported to me the wonderful story of how she had not seen his work for some time, and how, when she was working in the Netherlands, Merce’s company came through on tour, she saw them, went backstage to greet Merce and said to him, “Merce, I don’t get it!” and he responded, “Nelle, there’s nothing to get!” In other words, his work had evolved and matured to his vision of pure dance – movement only with not even a hint a narrative or message.

This aspect of his work was no more in evidence than in the last piece, the appropriately-named “Split Sides” from 2003, where prior to its performance, rolls of a die determined which part of the dance was going to be done first – B, which set of costumes used first – “Colored,” and which music and which set design would go with each segment. The dancers were seated on stage as these selections were cast, looking bemused, who then left to change as soon as the costume choice was known. This process was presided over by MCDC’s official Archivist, the author David Vaughan [well-known for his biography of British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton].

The oldest of the works presented the night I attended, “Rainforest,” dates from 1968 and is one that I’ve enjoyed before, and which features décor by Andy Warhol – called ‘Silver Clouds’ but which really look like inflated Mylar pillows [which had a life of their own] and music by David Tudor. The sound score seemed to have jungle animal sounds embedded in it, although synthesized – elephants plus myriad critter sounds, hootings and cawings.

“Duets,” the opening work was just that with couples making dance phrases, some brief, some longer, and then scooting off, concluding with all of the couples onstage, making a tableaux.

Another hallmark of an MCDC show is always, it would seem, that a small portion of the audience walks out. Perhaps we have come a long way, baby, and perhaps it’s that we all knew to be respectful and stay to the end, so it was unusual that this time, I didn’t observe anyone standing up and making their own statement by leaving. I have always attributed this behavior to Merce’s work as being so far in advance of anything else – very avant garde, which included some sound scores that were hard to take. Yet, with the advances in movie and computer technical wizardry, Merce’s work, while still appearing striking, unique, and fun, no longer impresses me as being on the edge.

As always, I was greatly impressed by the technical and athletic demands of the choreography throughout – from lots of sauté to controlled balances and quirky shifts of weight. Cunningham utilizes a fairly conservative repertoire of ballet steps and positions – fifth position, tendus, rounded arms high and low with what appear to be favorite steps and sequences that may be found in all three works: pas de bourée over, chassé to second position, strong passepieds à la seconde. What makes it modern dance, however ,is the bare feet, the use of the torso [contractions, for example] and how he, seemingly, puts allegro steps next to and into an adage movement or just when you think the pattern is going one place, it abruptly shifts and takes off somewhere else.

I was happy to see another former Cornish student, Marcie Munnerlyn, on the roster of company dancers. Until very recently, Cornish was represented by dancer Holly Farmer and Munnerlyn is carrying the tradition. In many ways, Cornish planted the seed for Merce, and it seemed having this dancer, while not perhaps bringing it full-circle, does never the less, pay tribute to Merce’s Northwest roots.

With some of the best dancing to be found anywhere – certainly for the modern dance, it was a very enjoyable evening, somewhat bittersweet with the knowledge that seeing an MCDC performance will never happen again. Not with his dancers within the setting and context of his company and his overall guiding vision. Future performances of Merce’s work will be licensed, so there is hope that his deep legacy will continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

Thank you, Merce, for allowing us to see you.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010-11 Legacy Tour

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Cunningham Company's December 2011 performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the New York Observer.

NY Observer

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jan 02, 2012 12:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company 2010-11 Legacy Tour

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the two Events presented at the Park Avenue Armory on Thursday, December 29, 2011.

NY Times

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