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The Merce Cunningham Legacy Tour

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Alastair Macaulay reviews the company. I hope people who see these performance will tell us about it here.

In January the Merce Cunningham Dance Company began a two-year farewell “Legacy Tour” leading up to its final performances, on New Year’s Eve 2011 in Manhattan. Last week the company performed “Nearly 902,” a restaged version of Cunningham’s last work, at the Théâtre Maisonneuve here. This was the most multidimensional dance experience I have witnessed this year, constantly opening fresh aspects of dance as thought.

The dancers are the final group trained by Cunningham; they include understudies to whom he gave special attention. Cunningham liked to concentrate on the newest dancers; after that he would often seem scarcely to notice them for several years, and they had to learn how to dance not for his approval but to fulfill themselves. His death has placed the entire company in that situation; some members have spoken of how they are still trying to work on directives he gave them. It will be fascinating to see them tackle other revivals, but “Nearly 902” shows them in closest communion with the master.

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The company is here in Seattle this weekend -- I'm between performances right now. They performed XOVER, Quartet and BIPED on Thursday and the audience was very warm. It was pure pleasure to see the company -- they have always danced with great integrity in my experience, but of course these performances are very fraught, so I can't really give a very objective report. All i can say is to repeat a friends observation -- In general, Cunningham didn't assign meanings to his work, but Biped could certainly be an example of paradise.

More tonight, including Rain Forest. The last time I saw that work live, one of the Warhol pillows floated out into the audience, and hovered over us for the rest of the performance. I'll be looking up again tonight.

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Thanks, sandik. I'll be seeing Antic Meet, Squaregame and Sounddance in December. Is Julie Cunningham dancing this weekend? She was missing in Richmond, Virginia in February, but she's still listed on the company's site.

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I envy you Antic Meet and Sounddance! Julie C wasn't performing here, but it looks like everyone else has been here.

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I didn't find much to like in the music, sets or musical connections to the choreo in XOVER. The sound was ear splitting (and I say this as someone who has already lost about 20% of her hearing), but the techs seemed to get the message and the sound was a much more comfortable level for the remaining two pieces. The crowd was not full in the theater, but was enthusiastic and knowledgable. I liked Quartet very much and BIPED was amazing. In all 3, I looked for "Cunningham-isms" that the NYT described so well in their videography:

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/07/27/arts/1247463664370/the-legacy-of-merce-cunningham.html

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I didn't find much to like in the music, sets or musical connections to the choreo in XOVER.

One distinctive thing about Cunningham's work is that there are no connections to the choreography. wink1.gif Music, choreography and sets are created separately.

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I didn't find much to like in the music, sets or musical connections to the choreo in XOVER.

One distinctive thing about Cunningham's work is that there are no connections to the choreography. wink1.gif Music, choreography and sets are created separately.

You can see this in action in the DVD of "Split Sides," a 2003 work comprising two 20 minute dance segments ("A" and "B"), two sets of music (one by Radiohead and another by Sigur Rós), two set designs (one by Robert Heishman and one by Catherine Yass), two sets of costumes (both by James Hall) and two lighting plots (both by James F. Ingalls). The order in which each element is used is determined by an onstage toss of the dice. So, for instance, dance segment B might appear first, to the music of Radiohead, in the first set of costumes, with Yass' set, and the second lighting plot with dance segment A performed to the music of Sigur Rós, in the second set of costumes, with Heishman's set, and the first lighting plot. There are 32 combinations in all, four of which can be seen on the DVD. (Plus the two orderings of A and B in silence, which the DVD offers as an additional option -- a real one in the case of Cunningham, since he choreographed them in silence.)

"Split Sides" isn't my favorite Cunningham work, but the DVD is fun to play around with.

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"Split Sides" isn't my favorite Cunningham work, but the DVD is fun to play around with.

That's how I feel. For one thing, the looser fitting set of costumes reminds me of pajamas.

I have several MCDC videos (purchased online and at Westbeth) not currently for sale on their website, which makes me wonder if the company has a lot of material it hasn't released yet, but will slowly make available once this final tour is over. I sure hope so.

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(Plus the two orderings of A and B in silence, which the DVD offers as an additional option -- a real one in the case of Cunningham, since he choreographed them in silence.)

Since that's how he made most everything, I usually just turn the sound off on the television when I watch a video. For those who have been following the company for a long time, this methodical demonstration of possible combinations seems a bit obvious, but watching the dice tossed on Saturday night made it easier for my son, who is not familiar with Cunningham's processes (expect what I've babbled on about!) to see how the operations operate.

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I have several MCDC videos (purchased online and at Westbeth) not currently for sale on their website, which makes me wonder if the company has a lot of material it hasn't released yet, but will slowly make available once this final tour is over. I sure hope so.

Your lips to the gods' ears!

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