One day we're speeding though sunshine, and the next day we're slogging through snow.
FEBRUARY 12, 2010
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company left New York yesterday and flew through sunny skies to this cloud covered, snow drifted university town, where--as chance has it--their long goodbye begins. Billed as The Legacy Tour, this series of bookings will take the troupe though several continents, through two years, through airports and train stations, through birthdays and holidays, and through some 17 works in their repertory-- some again and again and then again, some for the first time in decades. Tonight, in Ohio, they will perform a work Merce Cunningham made in 1960 and performed in himself. It is called "Crises." Then, after intermission, they will dance "Split Sides," the work that plays with chance procedures in front of the audience. Before each performance, dice are thrown (at the premiere, the tossers included Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns) to determine the order of the dance, which is made in two parts; and also to determine the orders of the sets; the musical scores; the costumes; and the light plots. There are two choices for each element, resulting in some exponential number of possible outcomes.
The allure of this complicated gambit is that it illustrates one of the core Cunningham tenets: dance, decor, and music are separate entities, conceived apart, having in common duration of time and occupation of space at the time of the performance. Whatever the outcome on any given occasion, it's a delicious dance, with some of the dishiest duet material in the canon, and with scores by Radiohead and Sigur Ros, it's perhaps especially suited to a university house. (Why not see a kind of dancing you've perhaps never seen while hearing music by bands you already like a lot? ) Each made a score just for this work, and they played live when the work opened, in 2003. Here's the backstory, with a diary of the first four performances and the various ways the results of the chance operations affected the experience of the piece:
How excellent is it that each of the two sets can be felt to represent a climate? What will it be tonight? First winter, then summer? Will the dancers be set down in their tropical costumes in an arctic environment, or will they wear their winter branches costumes in their winter set? We'll see. It's a strange thing, this beginning of an ending. But we aren't there, yet. We're here. Curtain's at eight. As Merce said:
We begin again... Ready, everybody?
Photo courtesy Hugo Glendinning ©Hugo Glendinning
Quotations from an interview with Nancy Dalva ©Nancy Dalva