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Merce Cunningham's "Roaratorio"


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#1 Helene

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 06:33 PM

Michael Popkin reviews Merce Cunningham Dance Company in "Roaratorio" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for danceviewtimes.

Opening the company’s final visit to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday night and danced just once in a run featured that three programs in four nights, this was New York’s chance to see this seldom performed masterpiece – perhaps its only and last chance as the company is set to disband in two weeks after a New Years’ Eve show at the Park Avenue Armory. Originally made by Cunningham in 1983 and danced at that time to performances of Cage’s score that featured live musicians and voices, it fell out of the repertory after 1987 and wasn’t seen again until Patricia Lent and Robert Swinston revived it in 2010 to a recorded soundtrack for the Legacy Tour. Whether another company can stage this in the future is anybody’s guess, but clearly it ranks up there with Cunningham’s best work. From the moment the dance begins, you know it’s by him. If the possession of a unique voice is one hallmark of a great artist, it’s hard to think of any dance maker who surpasses him in this quality. The way you know Otis Redding or Sarah Vaughn’s voice when you hear it, you recognize a Cunningham dance on sight.



#2 kfw

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 07:38 PM

Thanks for posting this, Helene, and thank you, Michael. Medici.tv had a video of the Roaratorio revival available for streaming for awhile, so we can hope the Cunningham foundation will eventually make it available for purchase. How wonderful in the meantime to have those large photos.

The open wings, the dancers watching from the wings or from the stage when not dancing themselves, and “even the active dancers [. . . ] presented in a relaxed and impromptu manner that had the spontaneous air of a rehearsal” are elements that remind me of "Squaregame," and that added to my pleasure in that dance when the company presented it a couple of weeks ago at the Kennedy Center.

#3 sandik

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 03:11 PM

I had the good fortune to see big chunks of Roratorio get taught here in Seattle when Cornish College did one of the new minEvent projects, and it was thrilling -- such a fabulously visceral work.

This comment

"The way you know Otis Redding or Sarah Vaughn’s voice when you hear it, you recognize a Cunningham dance on sight.

is absolutely dead on.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 04:50 PM

Michael, I think that's a beautiful piece :) Thank you!

#5 Ray

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 06:48 PM

I love this dance, but my hands-down favorite is--was--Sounddance. In many respects evokes the dynamism and mystery of the finale of B's Four Temperaments (a ballet MC admired, btw). Gutwrenching to watch it performed for the very last time ever by the company at Kennedy Center a few weeks ago.

#6 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 06:40 AM

A fine review of a magical evening! The work is just packed with gorgeous detail – kudos to Mr. Popkin for capturing some of the loveliest for us to treasure, because this masterpiece may well be gone forever.

At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend any of the MCDC’s final repertory performances at BAM. (I think I went through at least a half of a box of Kleenex when I looked at my calendar for that week and realized that both hell and high water stood between me and every single night of the run.) Then, thanks to the last-minute operation of some grand cosmic chance procedure, I got two of my evenings back and managed to score a couple of (good!) tickets. I have now officially used up my lifetime’s allotment of karma. (I used up the rest of the Kleenex at BAM.)

Roaratorio was as marvelous as Michael’s review makes it out to be—and as he points out, impossible not to watch it with joy even though your eyes might be full of tears.

I also got to see Pond Way, RainForest, and Split Sides. Nancy Dalva, who sometimes posts here as Nanatchka, threw the dice onstage for Split Sides’ lighting plot for the Friday evening performance.

Split Sides isn’t my favorite Cunningham, but Silas Reiner’s astonishing solo in the “B” section (done in the black-and-white costumes, to Sigur Ros’s score, with Catherine Yass’ décor, and lighting plot 600) was the performance of the evening if not the whole dance year. He got a huge round of applause in the middle of the work—something I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a Cunningham performance—and deserved every second of it.

An aside: I was a little grumpy about the way Cage’s score for Roaratorio was mixed: I think it could have been more deftly layered to bring out some of its own detail and effects. Perhaps the sound system and the venue’s acoustics made that difficult to do.

#7 sandik

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:37 AM

I love this dance, but my hands-down favorite is--was--Sounddance. In many respects evokes the dynamism and mystery of the finale of B's Four Temperaments (a ballet MC admired, btw). Gutwrenching to watch it performed for the very last time ever by the company at Kennedy Center a few weeks ago.


It's not fair to make a grown girl cry -- I wish this had been on the program when the company was here. We saw it a few years ago in Seattle and people still talk about it.

#8 Bradan

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 10:51 AM

Thanks for this review! I was lucky enough to see Roaratorio in the Barbican in October. The music completely overwhelmed me for the first few minutes - it was my first introduction to Cage and my poor brain struggled to make sense of it - and then it was entirely enveloping, except when I got snagged on a song or a tune that I knew and the 'mix' in my head got unbalanced. I would love to have heard it live.

The dancing seemed incredibly clean-edged and luminously simple against the music. I don't think I've ever been so completely absorbed by a dance.

#9 kfw

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:39 AM


I love this dance, but my hands-down favorite is--was--Sounddance. In many respects evokes the dynamism and mystery of the finale of B's Four Temperaments (a ballet MC admired, btw). Gutwrenching to watch it performed for the very last time ever by the company at Kennedy Center a few weeks ago.


It's not fair to make a grown girl cry -- I wish this had been on the program when the company was here. We saw it a few years ago in Seattle and people still talk about it.

It's the one that knocked me out most the first time I saw it at the Kennedy Center. (Squaregame had that effect this time). Nancy Dalva has a nice article on it at her site. There is a short clip on You Tube as well.

#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 06:29 AM

BAM has uploaded four short videos compiled from footage shot during the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's final repertory performances there in December. Links below ...

Roaratorio

Split Sides (Silas Reiner's solo)

Second Hand

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