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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 12:52 am 
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Programme One - Tuesday 10th September

You can’t help feeling benevolent when the slow-moving, stick-bearing figure hobbles onto the stage to take his bow with the Merce Cunningham dancers. Somehow, with his shock of white hair, he shines. And somehow, the moment that this diminutive, arthritic, slightly fuzzy body stands alongside the agile, sharply delineated and focused bodies of the dancers, that sense of unity through extreme difference, which has become a profound informer of Cunningham’s style, springs to life. A simple moment, and not arguably even part of the evening’s work, yet a revealing and clarifying one that galvanises our sense of the choreographer’s personality and creative vision.

Cunningham’s newest piece ‘Fluid Canvas’ premiered at the Barbican on Tuesday as part of Dance Umbrella. It is pervaded by these questions of unity versus difference, and of the random versus the planned; the pendulum of meaning swings between the effortless and the fraught. There is a tangible search for fluidity, seamlessness and balance in the style, yet in a world where focus never flows from one place to the next, but is forced to shift like clockwork, the search is constantly challenged and constantly belies itself as futile. Shapes are either straight or curved; bodies are either lifted or contracted; pathways are either direct or circular. The search for a middle space, for balance, turns itself into a rollercoaster of extremes: no gentle undulation of controlled rise and fall here, rather a sequence of giant leap to the apex, giant thump to the ground and giant hoist to the next apex.

A fluid canvas is in constant flux. The dancers, as visual objects, live out the fantasy of the piece’s title as endlessly shifting physical entities arranged and arrayed on a stage. Adding a further level, Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser’s digital canvas provides a backdrop to the movement that is not simply a shifting singular entity, but that creates a two-fold layering of visual stimuli. The two canvases, like the two images that we can make out on single photograph with double exposure, have a unique meaning alone, and another in relation to each other. There is a sense of epiphany in the union of extremes, yet that achievement in Cunningham’s work, perhaps as in life, can only be left to random chance.

So, as the piece opens and we find a sea of digital stars framing five real figures in sparkling twilight blue, the two media seem to have a fundamental and integral connection. As the star-dots begin to sway and dance like a join-the-dots representation of real bodies, we expect echoing and interchange. But of course, what we actually get are slippery look-a-like moments when we create our own sense of correlation. Like the huge, silver eclipsing moon that ebbs in seeming tandem to a trio travelling across from stage right to stage left only to bleed into a curved and non-representative shaft of white light, meaning waxes and wanes as we wish it.

There is something deeply emotionally resonant about work that plays its audience with such grace and confidence. At one point, the digital artwork shows us the hands of a musician gently but masterfully manipulating an instrument. Of course, any rhythmic or melodic relation it bears to the actual mechanical sounds we hear onstage is not explicit. But Cunningham’s images are not to be taken at face value. The question it really provokes is about who and what is really being played during this performance. It is a thoughtful, talented and masterful choreographer who can build his instruments and create a symphony from not just a familiar group of dancers on the stage but from a first night audience.

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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2002 1:18 am 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Two more reviews of Cunningham:

Devil-may-care master of anarchy
By Clement Crisp for the Financial Times


The second of Merce Cunningham's programmes at the Barbican, as the week ended, brought recent dances and the revival of a merry piece from 1965. What we see so clearly in this programme is how Cunningham has refined his - and our - perceptions about movement. What was once iconoclastic, taxing, gently yet formidably argumentative - you can't imagine Cunningham hectoring his audience; simply being sweetly reasonable and unswervingly anarchic in his logic - now seems, if not ordinary, at least familiar and welcome, and right. Right for him and, ah! the power of sweet reason, right for us.

The 1965 creation, How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run, is as jolly as can be: dancing that boils and bubbles over the stage while Cunningham and David Vaughan read short and often jokey texts by John Cage, contrapuntally or singly. Here is choreography that wins the attention, even though the anecdotes being told are funny and engrossing: the conflicts and contrasts between the two narrators, and between word and dance, are fascinating, rewarding.

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For Merce's sake, stop fidgeting at the back
By Jenny Gilbert in The Independent

Whenever I feel ratty with my PC, whenever I start to get fogeyish yearnings for index cards and filing cabinets, the very thought of Merce Cunningham shames me. The American choreographer, now 83, adores computers. He seized on their creative possibilities some 11 years ago with the kind of childlike enthusiasm Michelangelo might have had for felt-tip pens if they'd been invented. Yet the chief wonder is not the extent to which digital technology has altered the work he now shows on stage, but how little it has altered it. The essential Cunningham – ice-cool and spare yet absorbingly, mind-crunchingly complex – was as much in evidence at Tuesday's world premiere as in any Cunningham creation of the last 50 years.

But it doesn't get any easier. Fluid Canvas – co-commissioned by the Barbican to mark his company's 50th anniversary – is far from being the work of a fading veteran, content to re-visit his best ideas and hand them to his audience on a plate. The piece is part of an unstinting quest into what I can best relate to as kinetic sculpture.

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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Thu Sep 19, 2002 1:51 am 
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Another review from The Independent.

Quote:
You can't stop Merce Cunningham performing. Arthritis may, after a long battle, have trapped his 83-year-old dancer's limbs, but his voice remains free. Last year he spoke in John Cage's radio play An Alphabet, staged at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere. Now he brings his voice and presence to his 1965 piece How To Pass, Kick, Fall and Run, revived this year as part of his company's 50th anniversary celebrations.

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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2002 3:43 am 
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Location: Guildford, Surrey, UK
Review from The Sunday Times (please scroll down article).

Quote:
Closing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s packed-out season at the Barbican, we had two further recent works on the second programme by the ceaselessly creating octogenarian. Way Station (made last year) has a decor of five towering papier-mâché sculptures on long, curly legs in orange, pink and green (Blue Peter on acid was my companion’s verdict), and music, by Takehisa Kosugi, that sounds like a concerto for wasps. Patchwork costumes in earth tones, frieze poses and a ritualistic air suggested an ancient, pastoral world to me. But much of the dance seemed too fidgety for cogency.

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And in The Observer.

Quote:
In the second of his two programmes for this year's Umbrella, he took a speaking role. How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965) used to be performed all over the place (including a gym), accompanied by the composer John Cage cracking open a bottle of champagne and reciting anecdotes. Now Cunningham is the raconteur, in a double-act with David Vaughan, the company's archivist. Like the two old geezers in The Muppet Show , they sit at the side of the stage, spouting in one-minute bursts, while the dancers go blithely about their business.

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<small>[ 09-22-2002, 05:51: Message edited by: Joanne ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Sat Feb 08, 2003 7:33 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Barbican Centre, London - Reviewed by Donald Hutera

Merce Cunningham’s dances can induce love at first sight. Take Interscape (2000), the long, glowing ensemble work, which received its London premiere as part of a co-presentation of the Cunningham company by the Dance Umbrella festival and the Barbican Centre’s BITE program of international performance. Challenging yet user-friendly, this dance is eminently good company. The movement was like an unfolding series of timeless tests and benedictions derived from a lovely, peculiar game. We don’t need to know the rules; it’s enough for us as observers to revel in the way it’s played. The anchoring central duet, danced by Lisa Boudreau and Cédric Andrieux in a manner charged with romantic trust, was classic Cunningham. The entire piece was staged before a Robert Rauschenberg backdrop that suggested a collage of civilization. The accompaniment throughout was John Cage’s spare, questioning score for solo cello, played live by Audrey Riley. The music left room for thought, which was just as well, given the amount of choreographic information imparted during an approximate forty-five-minute running time.

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 Post subject: Re: Merce Cunningham Dance Company
PostPosted: Sat Feb 08, 2003 9:39 am 
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Merce Cunningham Dance Company at The Barbican

Fluid Canvas, Interscape, Way Station, Loose Time, How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run

As Merce Cunningham uses cryptic titles and disdains explanatory programme notes, we must all make our own interpretations of his complex work. In the recent visit of his company to London’s Barbican, as part of BITE:02 and Dance Umbrella, the collage backdrop to “Interscape” held a key for me in the form of a small image of the Parthenon, a masterpiece of architecture and mathematics. However, whereas the geometry of the Greeks or Petipa centres on symmetry, Cunningham focuses on asymmetrical explorations of personal and ensemble space and often uses prime number groups of 3, 5, 7 and even 11 dancers. Others will find their own themes in the work and perhaps this is one of the aspects that make his choreography so intriguing.

Amazingly for a dance maker in his 80s, four of the five pieces in the season were from the past 2 years. The first programme opened with the world premier of “Fluid Canvas”, dedicated to Val Bourne, the Director of Dance Umbrella. The work has the added interest of a computer based motion capture film by the same team of Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser that produced the much admired front projection for “Biped”. Here, the film is used as back projection and is based on images of Cunningham’s hands which are then transformed into abstract shapes. Although lower key than “Biped”, the images work effectively with the dancers, although, as always with this choreographer, the two elements were produced independently to allow for chance effects.

The piece opens with four performers stationary and one in motion, but before long there is a flurry of movement across the stage and dancers everywhere. In the solos and ensemble sections that follow, including a series of trios, we see arms at full stretch and in semi-circles upwards or down or half and half to form an ogive. The dancers’ bodies are often tilted to one side and there are plenty of Cunningham’s fiendish balances. Overall I found much visual interest, but afterwards the movement in “Fluid Canvas” did not stay with me as long as some of the other choreography in the two programmes.

“Interscape” was the high spot of the week for me. Initially the dancers warm up behind a scrim decorated with a Robert Rauschenberg collage of abstract designs and classical images and when this is raised the same collage forms a backdrop. The piece has many ballet references with attitudes, spins and even grands jetées. In the middle there is an exquisite duet with sculptural angles and a sequence where the woman repeatedly falls backwards to be caught at the last moment. The abstract solo cello music by John Cage with many long pauses was brilliantly played by Audrey Riley and when Cunningham came on at the end there was a richly deserved standing ovation.

The second programme opened with “Way Station”. The bright alien tripod shapes by Charles Long distributed around the stage promised much, but the dance is Cunningham at his most severe with jerky movement creating an otherworldly landscape to a scratchy live accompaniment.

“Loose Time” is in sharp contrast with fluid, dancey movement and unusually an emphasis on duets, especially in the first half. There is a zippy feel to the piece and in one section waves of dancers are jumping and spinning. A fast solo by Holley Farmer with the most difficult balances and jumps made a strong impression.

The evening ended with something completely different. “How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run” dates from 1965 and is accompanied by Cunningham and David Vaughan reading one-minute vignettes sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly and sometimes together. The dance is playful and the performers’ bodies are more relaxed than in any of the other works we saw, with arms unconstrained by the geometric shapes from the other works. The narrators stole the show, but it was all so much fun that I’m sure none of the dancers minded being upstaged.

Across the two programmes many of the male dancers were outstanding and from the women Holley Farmer and Derry Swan were precise and powerful and lifted my spirits with the quality of their movement. Some find Cunningham’s lack of narrative or overt emotion a recipe for dehumanised dance. However, the joy on the faces of the dancers brought humanity to the performances for me. How lucky they and we are to be able to revel in stimulating new work from this master choreographer.

**********************************

This review first appeared in Dance Europe magazine.

<small>[ 08 February 2003, 10:41 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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