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Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group at the Merce Cunningham Studio

November 29, 2011
Merce Cunningham Photo by Mark Seliger

Merce Photo by Mark Seliger

It is rather reminiscent being in the Merce Cunningham Studio; my eye sought the preferred places I would stand for class, remembering the challenging technique classes and the diagonal combinations across the floor. But being there Sunday night to witness one of the last performances of the Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group was a bitter-sweet thing. With the passing of Merce Cunningham, an era of dance comes to a close.

Cunningham performing in 1948 Photo by Philippe Halsman - Magnum

Cunningham performing in 1948 Photo by Philippe Halsman - Magnum

First dance of the evening was Rune (1959), with music by Christian Wolff’s Or 4 People and the original decor by Robert Rauschenberg. The work is filled with classic Cunningham technique, rich in the exploration of movement for movement sake. The work, created in 1959, pushed the envelope for what is dance. Mr. Cunningham choreographed his pieces independently from his scores. The dancers sometimes not hearing the music till the dress rehearsals. Rune is the first dance in which the order of individual sections changed from performance to performance. It was during this period of “chance choreography” that he created some of what is considered his most “classic works”.

David Vaughn states “The other principle that Cunningham and Cage shared was the use of chance procedures in the composition of their works. Cage carried them through to the process of realizing a work in performance, while Cunningham has preferred to use chance not in the performance of his choreography but in its composition. Even so, there are those who believe that the dancers toss coins in the wings before going on stage, where they improvise. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time the choreography is given to the dancers in rehearsal, Cunningham has largely worked it out, using chance methods to determine the sequence of movements, where in the space they will be performed, and by how many dancers. His dances are not lacking in structure, but the structure is organic, not preconceived.”

Dancers are David Rafael Botana, Cori Kresge, and Stacy Martorana.Image by www.photographme.us

Dancers are David Rafael Botana, Cori Kresge, and Stacy Martorana.Image by http://www.photographme.us

Rune is for four women and two men, is seems to have a very “non-emotional’ aspect to it, But Merce’s work were noted for this, he did not prescribe to the Jungian theory of choreography. He was not interested exploring the myths of Greece or Rome, or classic love stories of ballet. At times the work seems not to be an ensemble piece at all, but the dancers each exploring individualized movement and even movement for movement’s sake. Timothy Emmett Lee Ward was excellent in the solo that was originally danced by Merce.

Merce Cunningham in Rune Photo by Keith McGary 1959

Merce Cunningham in Rune Photo by Keith McGary 1959

The dancer’s bodies shifted from sharp angular shapes to off-kilter torsos with titled pelvises. It is in the complexity of the dance that one sees the cohesion of the seemingly impromptu jumps with random hand and arm gestures. But it must be seen as the building of a choreographic sculpture, each piece independent but dependent upon the whole.

The range of the work went from saccadic motion to slow movements that formed different and challenging tableaux throughout the dance. Unmistakably positions are held for long periods of time on relevé. There is a meditative stillness to the movement that can be quite hypnotic in its beauty.

Cargo X, 1989 World première: University of Texas, Austin MerceCunningham: Choreography Takehisa Kosugi Music: Dove Bradshaw: Design, Costumes and Lighting

Cargo X, 1989 World première: University of Texas, Austin Merce Cunningham: Choreography Takehisa Kosugi Music: Dove Bradshaw: Design, Costumes and Lighting

Anna Kisselgoff said that Cargo X created in 1989, is one of Mr. Cunningham’s mixtures of serenity and bemusement”. The piece set to music by Takehisa Kosugi, and decor by Dove Bradshaw, opens with the dancers, all in different colored unitards grouped around a ladder. The choreography possesses a lighter feel with quicker transitions the previous Rune. The work for three men and four women move more in unison with this piece. With jumps and turns, the ladder lifted, moved and tilted, each section is allocated to the whole, the dancers periodically adding flowers that adhered to the ladder. Is there meaning behind the flowers being attached to the ladder, perhaps or perhaps not? There were soft giggles and moments of light merriment from the audience watching the piece. Guest artist Korhan Basaran must be commended for his performance and mastery of technique.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Cargo X, photo by Jed Downhill (1989)

Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Cargo X, photo by Jed Downhill (1989)

After Cargo X we went back to 1967 for Scramble, set to Activities for Orchestra, by Toshi Ichiyanagi and original decor by Frank Stella. Mr. Cunningham abstains from the sweeping movement of typical modern dance, he dislocates and relocates varying body parts and positioning, that is seemingly awkward but delve into true expressionism. The choreography is deeply rooted in the gravitational pull of the body creating landscapes of body shapes and positions.

There is intense focus within the dancers that is evident. They trio for three men created interesting shapes and combinations of movement in relationship to each other. In the solo of Cori Kresge, she rendered complete control, her movement possessing a zen-like quality.

Scramble consisted of slow adagio movements for the women and saccadic movement for the men. The choreography allowed moments of extremely beautiful femininity, emphasized by rotating hand and arm gestures. Lauren Ferguson excelled in her moments of quiet solitude in the stage, her long clean lines and ever-present fluidity of motion was a delight to witness. Stacey Martorana must be mentioned for her ability to effortless technique and sublime flow of movement.

Merce Cunningham’s choreography is about invention and innovation. He utilized unpredictability and irregularity in unprecedented ways that were enhanced by his process of chance. Known for his collaborations with other artist in other mediums he was a true maverick! An era of dance as come to a close and the Merce Cunningham Studio and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will be greatly missed.

Below an excerpt from Merce’s last work Nearly Ninety

Choreography by Merce Cunningham

Director of Choreography: Robert Swinston

Lighting by Carrie Wood

Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group

David Rafael Botana, Cori Kresge, Stacy Martorana, Timothy Emmett Lee Ward

Guests:

Korhan Basaran, Becky Chaleff, Lauren Ferguson, Antoine Lee, Suzanne Thomas

Merce Cunningham Winter Workshop

January 9 – 13, 2012 / $300

11 am – 12:30 pm Technique

1:30 pm to 4:30 pm Repertory

Under the Direction of Robert Swinston

Repertory: Un jour ou deux

Created by Merce Cunningham for the Opera de Paris

Registration: rafael@merce.org

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