by Patricia Boccadoro
2 March 1998 - It is impossible to remain indifferent to
Merce Cunningham. One is either an admirer or detractor and so it has
been for the last fifty years. Cunningham's choreography has no story,
theme or subject and is rarely supported by music, so his style is not
for everyone as all those who sneaked off in the first interval at the
Palais Garnier discovered.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, invited for the second time to
the Palais Garnier, presented two different programmes : Rune , Garnier
Event I, Scenario, and Installations, Pond Way ,
Garnier Event II. However, the argument is not whether a
Cunningham programme is good or bad ; it is simply essential, so
maybe it's irrelevant that people leave halfway through.
A disciple of the great Martha Graham, Cunningham ,nearing eighty
and a monument himself , has spent his life exploring movement,
working to "free" dance from the traditional
conventions of ballet and his work is superbly constructed, supremely
clever. But the accompanying sounds at the recent performances in
Paris were described as "an absolutely dreadful noise"
by many in the audience and scrumpling silver paper having replaced
the dripping taps of John Cage, Cunningham's close collaborator until
his death in 1992, the question to be asked is whether dance can live
without music. According to the American director it seems it can, for
his dancers rarely hear their musical accompaniment before the final
Moreover, the choreographer has used sophisticated software to
try-out virtual dance figures for many years. His staunchest admirers
are quick to point out that Cunningham uses the computer programme Lifeforms
to enable him to experiment with movements that he can no longer
perform himself and to choreograph pieces for his company without
requiring the dancers to be present, a way of working which demands a
high level of creative imagination.
When there is no emotion in a piece, only abstraction, there's
little room left for development and expression and it appears
Cunningham, even with his excellent troupe, can go no further. His
ballets now all seem much the same to me and I'm afraid I miss any
subtle differences . Art must express ; it cannot all be
void and emptiness. Merce Cunningham, whose works neither lift nor
transcend said what he had to say twenty years ago.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the work of two young French
choreographers recently, Thierry Malandain and Philippe Découflé,
full of innovation, freshness and humour, it seems to me that dance
has moved on.
Photo Credits : Jacques Moatti, Chris Callis
Cunningham Dance Company
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance from Paris. She
contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times. Ms
Boccadoro was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on
Rudolf Nureyev. She is Dance editor of Culturekiosque.com.
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