January 2004 - This year
marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and in
typical fashion, two new Cunningham pieces rather than a retrospective of his
works were brought to Paris.
The programme at the Theatre de la Ville
opened with Fluid Canvas, 2002, an almost three-dimensional work which
told no story, and was set to background noise by John King. Cunningham has
always found all sounds worth listening to, including, as in this case, the
racket of a building site.
Fluid Canvas, unsurprisingly detached
from all expressive or theatrical concerns, places each dancer in the "centre"
of the stage, where he or she evolves in their own space in a series of
simultaneous and then overlapping dances.. Much or little, dependent on whether
one is an admirer or detractor of Cunningham, is happening at the same time,
for, as the choreographer himself points out, each of us is different and
reacts in different ways. A dancer hops in a diagonal across the stage, and my
neighbour nods off to sleep. Two rows in front, a young man is squirming in
Holley Farmer (foreground) and Lisa Boudreau
Merce Cunningham:Fluid Canvas
Photo credit and copyright:
The dancers, not quite as amazing as they once were,
nevertheless seemed more alert than their audience, but although some
potentially interesting solos and duets began, they led nowhere. They were,
however, less incoherent than the backcloth, digital scribbles of limited
interest bearing no relation to the choreography. A disappointment after Marc
Downie and Shelley Eshkar's glowing images from
I felt as though I'd seen this work before, and as for
the younger people present confronting the Cunningham phenomenon for the first
time, in general, it was a let-down. In liberating dance from its academic
limitations, and permitting decor, music and choreography to meet only at the
first performance, Cunningham has opened the road to a certain sort of freedom,
which, as in this case, doesn't always work.
However, destiny smiled with the second piece of
the evening, Split Sides, created in 2003, which began with four
dark-suited businessmen on stage throwing dice to determine the order of the
two distinct parts. Whew! We must have struck lucky, for out of the possible
thirty-two combinations of décor, alternatively in black and white or in
colour, music and steps, the assorted elements clung together to make an
acceptable whole, easily watched, quickly forgotten.
Jean Freebury (foreground), Lisa Boudreau, Koji
Mizuta, Daniel Roberts in
Merce Cunningham:Fluid Canvas
credit and copyright: Tony Dougherty
The music by Radiohead and Sigur Ros was allowed to
act as a support, while the colourful costumes by James Hall, and changing
decor by Robert Heishman and Catherine Yass sustained interest. But as pleasant
as Split Sides was, one watched more with indulgence than fascination.
The presentation of the work in another place,
order, and time is of little concern to Merce. Since his meeting with John
Cage,the lifetime companion who died in 1992, everything that Cunningham does
finds meaning the instant it is performed; you have to "do at the moment you
are doing it. The show is nothing else than what we see", he has always said.
For those who accept dance as a cerebral exercise,
these pieces work, but for those who want to feel something other than what
Cunningham gives, and vibrate in another manner, look
writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times
and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms.
Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.