Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

Merce Cunningham Dance Company: The Legacy TourNow in Miami...and a question.


  • Please log in to reply
39 replies to this topic

#16 abatt

abatt

    Sapphire Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,753 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 07:39 AM

Cunningham is definitely not to everyone's taste. I usually enjoy the dancers, but I generally find the background noice/sound used by Cunningham intolerable. (Hence my suggestion to Chrisitian to bring ear plugs.) My favorite Cunningham work is Biped, and I hope it comes to New York before the troupe disbands.

#17 Simon G

Simon G

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 564 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:09 AM

Cunningham is definitely not to everyone's taste. I usually enjoy the dancers, but I generally find the background noice/sound used by Cunningham intolerable. (Hence my suggestion to Chrisitian to bring ear plugs.) My favorite Cunningham work is Biped, and I hope it comes to New York before the troupe disbands.



Abatt,

Here we go it's the complete schedule for the company until its closure:

http://www.merce.org...leOct2010-1.pdf

You're in luck, Biped will be on at BAM next December. It'll also be in Chicago, Tucson and Moscow it you'd like to double it up with a trip to the Bolshoi.

#18 abatt

abatt

    Sapphire Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,753 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:14 AM

Abatt,

Here we go it's the complete schedule for the company until its closure:

http://www.merce.org...leOct2010-1.pdf

You're in luck, Biped will be on at BAM next December. It'll also be in Chicago, Tucson and Moscow it you'd like to double it up with a trip to the Bolshoi.


Thanks Simon G. I will certainly see it at BAM. Wish I could go to Moscow, but it's out of the question financially.

#19 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,269 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:46 AM

It's interesting that you should post a clip of Fonteyn & Nureyev as both were ardent fans and supporters of Cunningham, his work and company. Nureyev, Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Kirstein all ardent admirers of Cunningham to the extent that they brought his work into the repertories of NYCB, ABT, Paris Opera.


Simon, I feel the need to reinforce that, as with everything else in life, when I speak, write or share my experiences on something, it should be perfectly clear that this is just me, talking about my perception and how the work adjusts or not to my own guidelines. About the other handful of millions of viewers-(including of course you, Fonteyn and Nureyev)-I don't have the right, nor the desire to speak about. That's why I always try to use the "I perceived", "I felt" and the like, instead of trying to build the criticism against the body of work itself, which I'm perfectly conscious that I'm not prepared for, nor that I'm interested to. I don't argue that what I saw is not the product of a genious...I'm saying that it was unbearable TO ME. But...what's the harm on that, if for each person who hates the thing there are millions who love it...? If the work is good, it will be passed on and alive way after me and my criticism are both long forgotten.


You show me a clip of Coast Zone and ask me to see your point of view that Cunningham is senseless, banal, facile - well sorry to disappoint, I see Coast Zone and I feel passion, admiration, choreographic genius because let me tell you, as much as you like to rubbish Cunningham on one viewing the technique, the choreography isn't easy, it's brutally difficult to execute.



Agree with that, but after I have admitted that the movement is difficult and brutal...what's left for me...? Exactly nothing, as in with Valdes and Osipova for you after their difficult, brutally executed fouettes. As you just said...you can't isolate the fragment and speak for the whole thing based on it.


Because this is the thing. The life and achievements of Cunningham demand respect, they're irrefutable. And if someone doesn't like it, or hates it, fine - but it's not fine to conclude that because one doesn't like it there must be nothing there.



...again, Simon...there's nothing there for me.

I don't care if people walked out, I've been watching Cunningham for years people have always walked out, they've been walking out on Cunningham for 57 years, does that make them right? No, it makes the work not for them, fair enough but when the walkers dismiss it as worthless, then all I can say is they're wrong. Just as I would be wrong to dismiss the clip of Alonso as a deluded elderly blind woman in a tutu kidding herself that she's a fifteen year old virgin's ghost.



Fine with that, but a little clarification. I believe that I've read lots of criticism of exactly that point on Alonso right on this board, by very knowledgeable people whose understanding of ballet is way wider than mine. Have I ever say "you're wrong...?" No, because THEY'RE NOT! This is THEIR truth, which doesn't mean that it is THE truth. It is worth to me to express it, discuss it and then try and expose the reasons to why I DON'T share that truth, but it would never occurred to me just to plainly state that...

...they're wrong



And BTW...about aging dancers "kidding themselves"...well, we could be building a never ending list of both ballerinas and bailarines that would include several-(and great)-Soviet,Italians,French and British exceptional, lovely Giselles/Auroras-(no need to tell their names...we both know them), but also, great modern dance exponents, even that of Cunningham's mentor. Thank God to the fact that they were "kidding themselves", so that many generations had the option either to ignore them or to go and see if there was still something worth in their live performances...

Edited to add: Isn't Misha still out there "kidding himself"...?

I regularly make myself sit through stuff I hate, Wayne McGregor, I hate his stuff, but I've seen every show he's done in the UK, both for the RB & his own company and while I can't like it, I likewise can't dismiss it entirely. I've made the attempt to appreciate his work his choreographic style.



And I do that too, Simon..! That's exactly why I went to see it, and why I go to see the Alvin Ailey company every time they come-(which I loved since the first time I went)...including their upcoming presentation...
The point is simple..the more I know about what I don't like, the more I appreciate and reinforce my truth about what I like.

#20 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 09:57 AM

It's interesting that you should post a clip of Fonteyn & Nureyev as both were ardent fans and supporters of Cunningham, his work and company. Nureyev, Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Kirstein all ardent admirers of Cunningham to the extent that they brought his work into the repertories of NYCB, ABT, Paris Opera.


It's not really important, though, whether dancers or other artists you admire do themselves admire other artists that one doesn't admire. Not that you meant that, but I think it's an important point. I don't like everything Balanchine likes, and don't care what he would think of that. Same with writers like Mailer, Didion, DeLillo, dancers like Suzanne Farrell, Nureyev, McBride, Hubbe, musicians like Boulez, Britten, etc. I do think it's also important to realize that most of those people who have a name in a given profession usually don't speak against others who have one (as it would seem natural to me for Stephen Sondheim to say something about Andrew Lloyd Webber, but he shies away from that, I don't know if he's said anything about Alan Mencken.) Film stars usually don't mention rivals in their fields, unless they're 'in a number' like Shirley MacLaine was with her decade + of Reincarnation Talk, and she'd say things in Vanity Fair like 'I talked to Goldie about it [Meryl Streep's acting] and she thinks it's channelling', which is one of the most hilarious things I ever read. Two Malibu gals sittin' around evaluating the competitiion.


Just as I would be wrong to dismiss the clip of Alonso as a deluded elderly blind woman in a tutu kidding herself that she's a fifteen year old virgin's ghost.


That's a Zizekian technique, I have nothing against it, but one is quite explicit about how one does NOT see something (so that one is stuck pondering it, as when Zizek claims he sides with Chavez, and then says 'well, you know, he is considered a clown'.) That's cool, though.

I regularly make myself sit through stuff I hate, Wayne Mcgregor, I hate his stuff, but I've seen every show he's done in the UK, both for the RB & his own company and while I can't like it, I likewise can't dismiss it entirely. I've made the attempt to appreciate his work his choreographic style.


Well, this does make you more knowledgeable, maybe even professional (or professional-level), although I'm not going to do it for someone's work I know I dislike. I haven't ever seen Cunningham's work, although I'm not sure why, didn't know enough about it, other things got in the way, I might see it at aome point, but not at BAM this year. I've seen Alvin Ailey's company only once, and I wouldn't pay for it again, because I thought the program was awful, even though I doubt that other programs would be. Still, I got a taste of what the company was, and I don't have any practical reason to inform myself perfectly on the Ailey company. Although I would say your ability to be so exhaustive about dance you dislike to the point of even 'hating' is admirable. Most, like me, aren't going to do it.

Likewise with the Osipova & Valdes, I don't deny they are fabulous technicians, top flight dancers, but the Don Q Pdd depresses me because it's indicative so much of the modern approach to the classics a kind of technical revisionism where every aspect is reinvented with a hitherto unparalled technical brillo, because that's what the punters may pay for. Like I said where else is there to go now except to put the ballerina in a centrifuge and have her fouette at Mach 1?


Well, I'm going to see Osipova's virtuosity because I just want to, but not in 'Don Q', which bores me no matter how good the dancers. 'Coppellia' and SB will be just fine.

The triumverate of Cunningham, Cage & Rauschenberg's theory on design, art, music, choreography, theatre impact on every aspect of modern theatre and art to this day.


I can't really argue with this, as it's probably true, just that it may be exaggerated. Cage is important, but musically he is not so important IMO as Boulez, Stockhausen, or even Britten, but he was something of a real pioneer. As far as wanting to take most of his pieces individually, I don't care to listen to them. Give me 'Le Marteau sans Maitre' over anything of Cage any day. But you may be speaking of influences in 'art' and 'theater' in the sense of Brecht, but in a particular school and style and also the use of 'theory' of this 'triumvirate' may mean a particular branch of theater more than a universal influence on all theater (which it may have done, but not only they.) Would be interested in hearing about this.

Edited to add: I will watch 'The Coast' later. That I definitely can do, and am jus pressed for time, but can probably do it later today.

#21 Quiggin

Quiggin

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 839 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 10:18 AM

Actually I thought the clip of “The Coast [Zone]” Cristian has posted was lovely - and I’ve had difficulties with the length and sometimes atomized structures of Merce’s pieces. I think Elizabeth Bishop says if only her students would leave out the last stanza they’d be much stronger, and I’ve remembered thinking with this or that Cunningham’s piece, if it ended right now, it would be perfect, it would be a thing complete in itself. But “The Coast Zone” had some nice matching of shapes with shapes and a nice caesura or two to anchor those.

I do have a problem with “Les Sylphides/Chopiniana" as an advance in ballet, being a little sickly sweet, though the figures and the development of the corp-al lines are beautiful. It may be that the Glazunov orchestration denatures Chopin’s pieces, their architectures and faceting more at home on the hard keys of the piano. Alexandra Danilova says that already by the twenties Fokine was out of date, that for her and Balanchine and the people of the Young Ballet, Fokine was the past, the clean lines of Apollo and rhythms were the kinds of things they were looking forward to.

Would Diaghilev have brought Cunningham to the Ballets Russes along with Rauchenberg and Johns? - He probably would have, just as he had with "Pas d’Icier"/"Steel Step" and its hard and incessant Prokofiev score, in order to catch up with the latest thing the Soviets were doing. As he had with Balanchine who was bringing with him the latest from Meyerhold and Goleizovsky. And as Diaghilev almost did with Alejo Carpentier who was bringing modernist Cuban ballet pieces to Paris - but too late - and who would in turn take “La Consagracion de la Primavera” back to Havana with him.

Regarding "Don Quixote" (rechoreographed and lightened I believe in 1910 or so) - it's a sidebar to the real thing and Don Quixote himself has been downgraded to a minor character - and so it's not a bad thing to excerpt, just as you would an opera aria here and there, as Schwarzkopf or Lucia Popp would do.

#22 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,269 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 11:10 AM

Just as I would be wrong to dismiss the clip of Alonso as a deluded elderly blind woman in a tutu kidding herself that she's a fifteen year old virgin's ghost.


Well Simon...with all respect-(and correct me if I'm wrong)-, but I sense that by referring to a "deluded", "elderly"-(45 years old at the time), "blind"-(although in my humble opinion that particular item wasn't an issue at the time of the clip, but again...that's a personal perception)-and "kidding herself" woman about her character portray, well...it certainly sounds to me not only as if you just have completely dismissed both the dancer and the clip, but also as if the bitter attack on the dancer's personal appearance/age/physical dissabily/mental state goes beyond the mere artistic criticism...

So I guess that, according to your own stated words, that makes you wrong...?

#23 Drew

Drew

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,288 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 07:44 PM

"Because this is the thing. The life and achievements of Cunningham demand respect, they're irrefutable."

Simon G. wrote that above. I must say it's how I feel about Cunningham. I have no problem with someone disliking it or deciding once is enough. To speak of nothing else: I can't afford the money it would to take to 'educate' myself about all kinds of dance I don't like!--but I think Cunningham is not to be casually dismissed and especially now, when we are essentially on the verge of losing most if not all of his incredible legacy.

What harm does it do just to express how one feels? Especially on a message board? Isn't that what we are all doing? Well, honestly I agree here with Cubanmiamiboy--not much harm and we are all doing it. But it's also true that that for those of us who feel strongly about dance it's hard to sit 'quietly' at our computers and see such a flat out 'dis' of Cunningham on a serious dance discussion board without offering some kind of response. Especially when it does not come with much further explanation other than the Coast Zone clip which...uh...seems very nice to me and probably would to most admirers of Cunningham.

P.S. There is more to Osipova than virtuosity: I am convinced of it. Whether her career, with its 'guest artist' appearances, will encourage her to develop that 'more'(?)...I'm hopeful but not certain. (Valdes I only saw once live in a Don Q excerpt: not enough for me to judge much beyond virtuosity, but that was very impressive, especially the balances.)

#24 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,269 posts

Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:04 PM

...it's hard to sit 'quietly' at our computers and see such a flat out 'dis' of Cunningham on a serious dance discussion board without offering some kind of response.


...it is just about how this response is formulated. I've read innumerable criticisms on this board about Giselle, Chopiniana, Grand Pas de Quatre and the like, with such open, fearless epithets that would put my OP into shame. They're all valid, for which this is EVERYONE'S PERSONAL TASTE. Then there aare other types of defense...some of which I definitely put aside, as they don't offer too much of a valid reasoning...

I will now say what I never said originally. When me and my mother got into the theater, we were told that the auditorium wasn't going to be used, so we had to go up on the stage, where all backdrops had been removed and no seats were in sight. Soon enough we were informed via speakers that "seating is PROHIBITED during the entire performance, and that the audience is encouraged to walk around the performers while the dancing is going on..."
I immediately asked to speak to someone in charge, and demanded a seat for my mother. I was told that that would not be possible, for which it would go "against the concept and wish of the AD". I then said that I had read the whole reference page on the website and that nothing of that had been posted. I also said that I had paid already for both of us, and so he had two options...either he would provide me with a chair for my mom, who had a knee replacement, or the theater would had to give me my money back. He disappeared and later on came back with a chair for her which he reluctantly placed in a corner, far from the performers with a totally blocked view by the standing viewers. Some time after the performance started, I was back with her, for which I had already had enough of it and was bored to death. We saw an elderly couple trying to understand this situation, and then leaving giving their incapacity to stand up for 45 minutes. An elderly guy in front of us couldn't keep on and started to go down the floor in all fours, and had to be helped for which he almost fell off, and then they couldn't even get him up. The whole thing was embarrassing, and comments about it were heard all over once the audience was leaving the auditorium.
Thank God I had the power and right to speak out and demand some reasoning. I have too many bad memories of being prohibited to seat when I was a teen and certain political figure came over to my town and gave a 4 hours speech to which we all students were forced to attend... :mad:
So forget about the ear plugs and just make sure that you and your companion are physically able to seat on the floor and also that you wear something comfortable that makes this possible.

Now, it is officially done. I take my final bows. Au revoir!. :bow:

#25 Simon G

Simon G

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 564 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 02:57 AM

Cristian,

You know that I don't think that about Alonso, and wouldn't, like Cunningham her life's work, body of achievements, longevity, phenomenal artistry and indeed the near miraculous way she overcame her blindess demand respect. And yes they exist along with the negatives, of which there are many, but in approaching Alonso on any critical level you cannot deny her massive contribution to the world of ballet and dance.

But the nerve I hit with you, is the nerve you hit - and why I would argue with both you and Patrick and would continue to do so, that whatever one's personal view of Cunningham and his work, the personal is absolutely right for the individual, but in the face of his achievements and contribution to write it off as "senseless dance" and not the "real deal" without a caveat, is absolutely wrong.

You went and saw an Event. I love, love, love the Cunningham Events, but they are not perhaps the best introduction to Cunningham for the novice viewer. Patrick asked about my statement about Cunningham's catholic contribution to theatre and performance and the Events are one such where chance and fate required a change of plans in in doing so Cunningham opened up a whole new experience in theatrical presentation. In Vienna in 1964 the company was hired to present their work at the Museum of the 20th Century: on arriving there they saw there was no theatre, no performance space which could double or serve as a proscenium arch space or even end on theatre, so they took the radical step of turning the whole space into the performance space, of having the audience intermingle with the action and instead of performing the pieces in their entirety taking sections from several works and having those sections performed in different spaces.

Over the subsequent 46 years the Events each numbered, have become a tradition in the Cunningham cannon, and are very different from his presentations of his complete pieces in traditional sit-down theatres. Patrick questioned Cunningham's influence on the wider realm of theatre and the Event is one of Cunningham's most radical innovations, impacting on how theatre and dance theatre can be and is performed.

When you go to an Event, you're not going to a traditional dance event, some of my favourite Cunningham experiences ever have been the Events, especially his 2003 Event in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. I'm sorry Cristian that you had such a bad experience and expected to sit, but Events are what you pay for. Indeed the worst ones I've seen were at the Barbican Theatre in 2005 when Dance Umbrella wanting to bring Cunningham over for the Summer were very lazy in programming a series of Events in a prosc arch theatre - the effect was diminshed.

An Event is like a moving art gallery, and I would say to a novice that going to a more traditional Cunningham evening of work is maybe a better bet. Abatt mentioned Biped which with it's lush digital imagery projected on a scrim and very conventional Gavan Bryers score is a nice introduction to Cunningham.

The thing is though you saw one aspect of Cunningham and judge the whole by it, and that aspect you didn't like. Fine. But then there's a body of work stretching back sixty years and a body of art, design, music it's too huge a cannon of work to judge on one viewing.

One of my favourites is Roaratorio, with its epic Cage soundtrack, which is evocative, heartbreaking, incredibly beautiful, Cunningham's late work with danceforms computer software, and the epic late works such as Fluid Canvas, CRWDSPCR, Biped, Split Sides etc I love his pure dance works from the 80s such as Fabrications, Native Green, Trackers and those wonderful classic works from the fifties and sixties such as Crises, Rainforest, Scramble - Cunningham and the thought of that work just fills me with such excitement and happiness, when you look at that phenomenal body of work, the evolution of the work over almost seven decades and the poverty he worked under for the majority of his dance and creative life - it's awe inspiring.

I think the reason why I have such a problem with your summation is not because it's how you felt, I fully appreciate and accept that, but it's a bit like hearing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and then writing off the entire works of Mozart based on that one fleeting example.

And I'm not saying I don't have problems with some of Cunningham's work - the last works from the final years Views On Stage, Nearly Ninety have not been entirely happy experiences for me, and especially Xover, which i have to say I hated. It appeared to me as if a very talented choreographer with no ideas of his own had ripped off and plagerised a Cunningham work, except it was a Cunningham work. Nearly Ninety I had to see twice in order to appreciate the choreography, some of the best from Cunningham I've ever seen - the problem with Nearly Ninety was the design and awful Cheesy Sonic Youth music. I've never seen a Cunningham work where the stage and costume's did their best to destroy the work and the music sounded like a dodgy Pink Floyd knock off concept album from the seventies. It's a pity because like I said the choreography was some of the richest I've seen in years.

You said it's a tragedy when any dance company closes and I agree, but this isn't just any company it's the Cunningham Company and when it closes something vital is going to be lost from the cultural landscape of humanity and I don't think it's loss will be truly felt till it's gone. Through his life Cunningham saw the greats diminish to nothing, the Graham Company, once the most powerful in the world, is now a risible shadow, you wouldn't know what Graham was what she stood for, Limon, Humphreys etc and I guess he didn't want his company to turn into that - a pale echo which once performed in Opera houses going through the motions in school gymnasiums. I also think that's why he kept creating new works year in year out, he knew the only way the company kept its place was if the "living God" came up with the goods and at the end of every performance was wheeled out to be worshipped.

It's also sad that it's disappearing as the present company which I had problems with as dancers on the last viewing at Barbican last October looked finally to be a cohesive company and danced better than I've ever seen them. Julie Cunningham is still in a league of her own and reminds me of that great company of dancers from the late 90s and early 00s, when every dancer had a big personality. But what they've lost in individual flair, they've gained in homogeny of technique and slickness. I have to say the men do look like a a technically competent unit.

If the Event was not to your liking and indeed with an Event you are taking pot luck as to music, performance space etc then I suggest you try an evening of Cunningham works in a traditional sit down theatre. Check out the link as to the full final schedule. Biped is a good bet as is Split Sides and both have very lovely music. I would also suggest reading up on Cunningham and his use of chance procedures to fully understand what it's all about. The best books are:

Chance & Circumstance: 20 years with Cage and Cunningham - Carolyn Brown

Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years. Chronicle and Commentary by David Vaughn.

Or go to the website www.merce.org and maybe get a DVD of Split Sides, or A Lifetime in Dance or the Cunningham technique videos to fully appreciate what it's all about.

But whatever you do, please do give Cunningham and the ferociously difficult technique another chance. It's the last chance to do so, it truly is worth giving it a second go, this is the last chance.

#26 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,320 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 07:48 AM

Over the subsequent 46 years the Events each numbered, have become a tradition in the Cunningham cannon, and are very different from his presentations of his complete pieces in traditional sit-down theatres.

As the Event I saw in 2003 in Richmond, Virginia, the audience was seated. Perhaps it was just an event. :P I hope to have seats again in February, for what will be another E/event.

Here is a link to a review, with photos, of the Event Christian attended.

#27 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,269 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 07:59 AM

Cristian,

You know that I don't think that about Alonso, and wouldn't, like Cunningham her life's work, body of achievements, longevity, phenomenal artistry and indeed the near miraculous way she overcame her blindness demand respect. And yes they exist along with the negatives, of which there are many, but in approaching Alonso on any critical level you cannot deny her massive contribution to the world of ballet and dance.

But the nerve I hit with you, is the nerve you hit - and why I would argue with both you and Patrick and would continue to do so, that whatever one's personal view of Cunningham and his work, the personal is absolutely right for the individual, but in the face of his achievements and contribution to write it off as "senseless dance" and not the "real deal" without a caveat, is absolutely wrong.

You went and saw an Event. I love, love, love the Cunningham Events, but they are not perhaps the best introduction to Cunningham for the novice viewer. Patrick asked about my statement about Cunningham's catholic contribution to theatre and performance and the Events are one such where chance and fate required a change of plans in in doing so Cunningham opened up a whole new experience in theatrical presentation. In Vienna in 1964 the company was hired to present their work at the Museum of the 20th Century: on arriving there they saw there was no theatre, no performance space which could double or serve as a proscenium arch space or even end on theatre, so they took the radical step of turning the whole space into the performance space, of having the audience intermingle with the action and instead of performing the pieces in their entirety taking sections from several works and having those sections performed in different spaces.

Over the subsequent 46 years the Events each numbered, have become a tradition in the Cunningham cannon, and are very different from his presentations of his complete pieces in traditional sit-down theatres. Patrick questioned Cunningham's influence on the wider realm of theatre and the Event is one of Cunningham's most radical innovations, impacting on how theatre and dance theatre can be and is performed.

When you go to an Event, you're not going to a traditional dance event, some of my favourite Cunningham experiences ever have been the Events, especially his 2003 Event in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. I'm sorry Cristian that you had such a bad experience and expected to sit, but Events are what you pay for. Indeed the worst ones I've seen were at the Barbican Theatre in 2005 when Dance Umbrella wanting to bring Cunningham over for the Summer were very lazy in programming a series of Events in a prosc arch theatre - the effect was diminshed.

An Event is like a moving art gallery, and I would say to a novice that going to a more traditional Cunningham evening of work is maybe a better bet. Abatt mentioned Biped which with it's lush digital imagery projected on a scrim and very conventional Gavan Bryers score is a nice introduction to Cunningham.

The thing is though you saw one aspect of Cunningham and judge the whole by it, and that aspect you didn't like. Fine. But then there's a body of work stretching back sixty years and a body of art, design, music it's too huge a cannon of work to judge on one viewing.

One of my favourites is Roaratorio, with its epic Cage soundtrack, which is evocative, heartbreaking, incredibly beautiful, Cunningham's late work with danceforms computer software, and the epic late works such as Fluid Canvas, CRWDSPCR, Biped, Split Sides etc I love his pure dance works from the 80s such as Fabrications, Native Green, Trackers and those wonderful classic works from the fifties and sixties such as Crises, Rainforest, Scramble - Cunningham and the thought of that work just fills me with such excitement and happiness, when you look at that phenomenal body of work, the evolution of the work over almost seven decades and the poverty he worked under for the majority of his dance and creative life - it's awe inspiring.

I think the reason why I have such a problem with your summation is not because it's how you felt, I fully appreciate and accept that, but it's a bit like hearing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and then writing off the entire works of Mozart based on that one fleeting example.

And I'm not saying I don't have problems with some of Cunningham's work - the last works from the final years Views On Stage, Nearly Ninety have not been entirely happy experiences for me, and especially Xover, which i have to say I hated. It appeared to me as if a very talented choreographer with no ideas of his own had ripped off and plagerised a Cunningham work, except it was a Cunningham work. Nearly Ninety I had to see twice in order to appreciate the choreography, some of the best from Cunningham I've ever seen - the problem with Nearly Ninety was the design and awful Cheesy Sonic Youth music. I've never seen a Cunningham work where the stage and costume's did their best to destroy the work and the music sounded like a dodgy Pink Floyd knock off concept album from the seventies. It's a pity because like I said the choreography was some of the richest I've seen in years.

You said it's a tragedy when any dance company closes and I agree, but this isn't just any company it's the Cunningham Company and when it closes something vital is going to be lost from the cultural landscape of humanity and I don't think it's loss will be truly felt till it's gone. Through his life Cunningham saw the greats diminish to nothing, the Graham Company, once the most powerful in the world, is now a risible shadow, you wouldn't know what Graham was what she stood for, Limon, Humphreys etc and I guess he didn't want his company to turn into that - a pale echo which once performed in Opera houses going through the motions in school gymnasiums. I also think that's why he kept creating new works year in year out, he knew the only way the company kept its place was if the "living God" came up with the goods and at the end of every performance was wheeled out to be worshipped.

It's also sad that it's disappearing as the present company which I had problems with as dancers on the last viewing at Barbican last October looked finally to be a cohesive company and danced better than I've ever seen them. Julie Cunningham is still in a league of her own and reminds me of that great company of dancers from the late 90s and early 00s, when every dancer had a big personality. But what they've lost in individual flair, they've gained in homogeny of technique and slickness. I have to say the men do look like a a technically competent unit.

If the Event was not to your liking and indeed with an Event you are taking pot luck as to music, performance space etc then I suggest you try an evening of Cunningham works in a traditional sit down theatre. Check out the link as to the full final schedule. Biped is a good bet as is Split Sides and both have very lovely music. I would also suggest reading up on Cunningham and his use of chance procedures to fully understand what it's all about. The best books are:

Chance & Circumstance: 20 years with Cage and Cunningham - Carolyn Brown

Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years. Chronicle and Commentary by David Vaughn.

Or go to the website www.merce.org and maybe get a DVD of Split Sides, or A Lifetime in Dance or the Cunningham technique videos to fully appreciate what it's all about.

But whatever you do, please do give Cunningham and the ferociously difficult technique another chance. It's the last chance to do so, it truly is worth giving it a second go, this is the last chance.


Great post, Simon :flowers:. At the very end of the story, I understand that my inability to get most modern works comes from my narrow exposure to them. I also believe that the ultimate goal of a dancing company is, more than fulfilling the artistic needs of choreographers, to provide pleasure to a given audience. Obviously, this was greatly achieved during the course of Cunningham's company's life, so don't mind my bitterness. I was just aggravated about the seating situation.

#28 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 09:38 AM

Like Cristian, I followed the pre-performance publicity for the Cunningham Event in Miami. Nothing I read would have prepared me for the experience Cristian's mother and a number of other people had to endure. "Standing room only" is not excusable to everyone, especially if they had not been warned at time of ticket puchase. Though I myself would rather have enjoyed standing around, the sight of others in distress would certainly have tainted my own enjoyment of the experience had a been there.

That said, I find that myself in agreement with much of what is being said on both sides of this discussion. Playing Devil's Advocate, however, I can think of a number of reasons to be puzzled, distressed, and ultimately not satisfied by Cunningham's work.

1) I attended Cunningham performances in New York City several times a year during the time from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. I loved some, enjoyed a lot, was bored by much, and generally agree with those posters like Quiggin who suggest that Cunningham may not have known how to end a piece. They did go on ... and on ... and on, making me think occasionally of Mr.Bennett in Pride and Prejudice interrupting his daughter's piano recital at a party: "Thank you, Mary, you have delighted us long enough."

2) A related criticism might be as follows: for those whose standards come from 19th and early 20th century ballet, one might be tempted to look at Cunningham as an example of very bad ballet. Let's take the example of Coast Zone. Cunningham does away with the formal structures of ensemble, soloist, principal. He does not focus long on any single dancerhe does not try to manipulate you into looking at exactly what HE might want you to look at. You are free to let your eyes wander. Because Coast Zone is based on so many ballet movements, one might easilly be tempted to think of it as "bad ballet" -- unfinished, sloppy, labored. It's not that to me, but I can see how it might appear so to many.

3) To the extent that one's taste comes from what one grew up with, I can see why I always worked hard to love Cunningham -- and why I might not have done so had I grown up in a country like Cuba. My first Cunningham performance (at which he danced) was in a studio setting in the mid-sixties. I was told he was a dance god by people who loved Balanchine. Since Balanchine was a dance god to me, i was definitely predisposed to want to see what was that they respected so much in Cunning ham. Everything I was confused by or disturbed by -- i.e.,. every thing was not Balanchine or Graham or Petipa -- I worked hard to understand, accept, and gain pleasure from. I wish I could say that I sat there in the studio, tabula rasa, and immediately experienced Genius. But I did not.

About this thread: it's GREAT TO SEE SO MANY POSTERS WRITING WITH PASSION, including Simon, with whom I agree entirely about such things as Don Q, technical brilliance for its own sake, and the need to open ourselves to a variety of expeiences. I also appreciate your willingness to admit that "a Cunningham Event is perhaps not the best introduction for a novice viewer."

Thanks, Cristian, for starting the thread and being willing to expose your own responses as a Cunningham first-timer. Although I agree with Simon that Dance must be a Big Tent kind of art, I also recognize that there are times that we want to retreat into a smaller room for something that speaks to our soul. For that kind of experience, I agree Giselle is probably as good as you can get. There have been times when I've needed the consolations of Act II after being depressed by bad dance theater.

#29 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,269 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 09:50 AM

Here is a link to a review, with photos, of the Event Christian attended.


Thanks for that link, kfw...I just realized about your post...
In any case, here's a fragment of the article...

[size="4"]MIAMI—On the opening night of the latest Merce Cunningham Dance Company performance — which runs through tomorrow at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center — the doors to the theater opened and everyone gasped.
There was a problem. Our tickets featured seat assignments, but a kind of foreign body had taken over the auditorium’s rows of chairs. This sculptural impediment was the work of Brooklyn-based, Florida-born artist Daniel Arsham, who began collaborating with Cunningham on sets in 2007 when he was 24 and the late choreographer was 84. For this performance, Arsham had installed a mountain of white platonic solids, a mound of convex shapes that towered above the people filtering into the hall. Peering up into the balconies, one could spot individual polygonal forms peeking out from shadowy seats, as if creeping toward the mass in the center of the room.
“Standing room only,” one of the ushers said ominously as we filed onto the stage, bare except for a series of carpeted runways on which we were not allowed to step. These pathways connected three rectangular performance areas marked off with tape, one slightly submerged, one at ground level, and one slightly elevated. Everyone began wandering around, vying for a good spot, whatever that might mean in this alien setting where cubes stole your seats and front and back were seemingly reversed.
Audience members began hassling the already anxious, surly ushers (who continuously had to drag people away from what would become the path of the dancers) trying to pry out of them the location from which the performers would emerge.

Such queries were silenced as the musicians of Sonic Combine — a trio that worked with Cunningham collaborator Robert Rauschenberg — from the peripheries of the stage, armed with some very strange-looking instruments, began to play atonal music. A sound technician blasted these disorienting sounds from speakers hidden all throughout the stage and its wings — our stomping ground for the duration of the performance — around which we had been invited to continuously stroll during the 30-minute show.[/size]

Like Cristian, I followed the pre-performance publicity for the Cunningham Event in Miami. Nothing I read would have prepared me for the experience Cristian's mother and a number of other people had to endure. "Standing room only" is not excusable to everyone, especially if they had not been warned at time of ticket puchase. Though I myself would rather have enjoyed standing around, the sight of others in distress would certainly have tainted my own enjoyment of the experience had a been there.

That said, I find that myself in agreement with much of what is being said on both sides of this discussion. Playing Devil's Advocate, however, I can think of a number of reasons to be puzzled, distressed, and ultimately not satisfied by Cunningham's work.

1) I attended Cunningham performances in New York City several times a year during the time from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. I loved some, enjoyed a lot, was bored by much, and generally agree with those posters like Quiggin who suggest that Cunningham may not have known how to end a piece. They did go on ... and on ... and on, making me think occasionally of Mr.Bennett in Pride and Prejudice interrupting his daughter's piano recital at a party: "Thank you, Mary, you have delighted us long enough."

2) A related criticism might be as follows: for those whose standards come from 19th and early 20th century ballet, one might be tempted to look at Cunningham as an example of very bad ballet. Let's take the example of Coast Zone. Cunningham does away with the formal structures of ensemble, soloist, principal. He does not focus long on any single dancerhe does not try to manipulate you into looking at exactly what HE might want you to look at. You are free to let your eyes wander. Because Coast Zone is based on so many ballet movements, one might easilly be tempted to think of it as "bad ballet" -- unfinished, sloppy, labored. It's not that to me, but I can see how it might appear so to many.

3) To the extent that one's taste comes from what one grew up with, I can see why I always worked hard to love Cunningham -- and why I might not have done so had I grown up in a country like Cuba. My first Cunningham performance (at which he danced) was in a studio setting in the mid-sixties. I was told he was a dance god by people who loved Balanchine. Since Balanchine was a dance god to me, i was definitely predisposed to want to see what was that they respected so much in Cunning ham. Everything I was confused by or disturbed by -- i.e.,. every thing was not Balanchine or Graham or Petipa -- I worked hard to understand, accept, and gain pleasure from. I wish I could say that I sat there in the studio, tabula rasa, and immediately experienced Genius. But I did not.

About this thread: it's GREAT TO SEE SO MANY POSTERS WRITING WITH PASSION, including Simon, with whom I agree entirely about such things as Don Q, technical brilliance for its own sake, and the need to open ourselves to a variety of expeiences. I also appreciate your willingness to admit that "a Cunningham Event is perhaps not the best introduction for a novice viewer."

Thanks, Cristian, for starting the thread and being willing to expose your own responses as a Cunningham first-timer. Although I agree with Simon that Dance must be a Big Tent kind of art, I also recognize that there are times that we want to retreat into a smaller room for something that speaks to our soul. For that kind of experience, I agree Giselle is probably as good as you can get. There have been times when I've needed the consolations of Act II after being depressed by bad dance theater.


Well said, bart... :flowers:

#30 Simon G

Simon G

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 564 posts

Posted 07 December 2010 - 10:40 AM

Cristian,

That does sound like a real chore and also like the staff were well out of order. I have to say that reading all of this that sometimes the Cunningham aesthetic can be a little too uncompromising for its own good, but also looking at all of this I think finances are increasingly coming in to play.

At the Barbican in October (when they were presenting a full scale evening length work, with lights, theatre props, full musicians etc) they'd set up a pimp stall in the lobby were a Cunningham Foundation person was taking donations, selling very overpriced posters and other merch. I heard the guy talking about the difficulties they're having raising the $8million projected that they need for the legacy tour and wrapping up the company, he said they have about two thirds. He also said that while Cunningham was alive getting money was never a problem, now people don't want to invest in a temple where Elvis has left the building and for a company that's about to end.

The thing is to present a full scale evening in theatre is very veyr expensive, the events, requiring modest stage facilities, no fancy or complex light sets and musicians brought in for the occasion are relatively cheap to produce. (I googled Sonic Combine and listened to their music - it's pretty cheesy hippy i have to say, no wonder you were underwhelmed, some people just can't accept that 1969 is over.)

I don't know if you know but all Cunningham dance is created and rehearsed in silence and always has been the music is commissioned to last a certain length of time and it's not until first performance sometimes that the company hear what they're dancing to. ON Events they often draft people in at the last moment to freestyle and draft an artist in to create a decor. It really can be pot luck, it sounds like you got the pottiest pot luck going. Only once to his Sextet in the 50s did Cunningham choreograph and dance to a score, Satie.

However I also imagine it must be a royal pain in the posterior for the theatre staff on these evenings, having to be constantly vigilant that the audience don't get in the way of the dancers, co-ordinating audience in and around the stage and the lack of attention to audience members who have difficulty standing or mobility issues is awful. They should have had a contingency plan in place.

Another problem with Events is that they take several sections from various pieces of the repertory and put them together in patterns to make an entire evening or programme, this can have a mixed effect depending on the order the dances are arranged, and in the case where there are several platforms who's doing what where. The big aesthetic ethos with Cunningham was "chance" how a certain set of circumstances can effect or affect the performance experience - sometimes this creates marvels, though sometimes too it can really be a bit of a dud. At The Tate it was sublime, the magnificent Turbine Hall, beautiful sound and accompaniment, all under a huge art installation Olar Elliafsson's "Weather Project". It would seem that this set of circumstances wasn't so fortuitous (also if I'm brutally honest the company in 2003 was just smoking hot - as I said, I'm not overly enamoured of the current and last set of dancers, which is a real crying shame.)

And yes, there are times I agree with Drew that it can seem too long, Nearly Ninety would have been perfect at seventy minutes. But in orther works such as Groud Level Overlay, Biped, Split Sides, Rainforest he got it bang on. And I also love the very long pieces like Roaratorio though I appreciate some find themselves thirty minutes in to a non stop ninety minute evening praying for a quick and merciful death. But to any Cunningham novice I also say avoid the evening length works, or be sure to sit near the aisel just in case.

The thing is like Bart said Cunningham absolutely can't be judged as ballet if you're really going to start seeing it for what it is; especially as the technique can seem on the surface so balletic. There have been times when the women in the company (look up youtube vids of the late 80s to early 90s - Points In Space) were so balletic in technique, training and physicality and the men in contrast were very robust, ungainly even I love the company from that time and it has my all-time favourite Cunningham female dancer Victoria Finlayson.

Cristian if you are willing to give him one more shot the company is coming to Berkley in California next March (the closet I could find to Florida) and they'll be performing Pondway which is absolutely lush. Go to that and if you still hate it I swear I will send you reimbursement for your travel and theatre tickets.

http://video.google....04579030507615#


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):