Cunningham at the Joyce

“Scenario MinEvent”; “Crises”; “eyeSpace”
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
October 10 & 15, 2006

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2006 by Susan Reiter

Any appearance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company is a major event. Having the company back at the Joyce Theater, where the dancers’ exceptional alertness can be viewed in a wonderfully intimate setting, was a particular treat. And a generous one at that, since it brought us a world premiere, plus the premiere of a major — and stunning — revival.

“Scenario MinEvent” is a rearrangement of excerpts of the 1997 work “Scenario.” Having seen it just once when it had its premiere at BAM, I cannot say what portion of the original version is included here. What stayed in the mind most intensely from nine years ago were Rei Kawakubo’s startling, almost perverse, yet also oddly alluring, costumes. When the dancers first start to fill the stage, one momentarily sees the costumes more than the people inhabiting them. Not only has Kawakubo used two boldly patterned materials — one with blue and white stripes, another with luridly bright green and white checks. Most of the dancers have bulbous lumps or protuberances along their torsos or hips. Some, who sport their lumps and bumps near their necks, look positively imprisoned. But the initial discomfort they inspire gives way to an odd fascination. They also have the effect of highlighting the pristine beauty of the dancers’ legs, which look especially sleek and elongated — and blazingly independent as they slice and lunge with divine articulation.

Most of the men’s costumes have their in sheath-like skirts of shifts, yet the fabric is amazingly flexible, as their legs’ never seem limited in their range of movement. Cedric Andrieux, whose costume is free of any oddities others than being draped and layered interestingly, emerges as a majestic figure, possibly a high priest, through his distinctively meticulous prowling and loping. He is the powerful anchor of a substantial trio with Holy Farmer and Jennifer Goggans, then later is amazingly grounded and focused as he performs what amounts to an extended solo, prowling stealthily as others dart through, flicking their legs as they take sideways lunges.

The dance was filled with moments of strange beauty and surprise — and wit, as when five dancers made their way to the floor, moving through what looked like pilates abdominal stretches, blithely ignoring all the costumes obstructions. At times the lighting turned ominous — at one point casting multiple shadows on the bare brick backdrop. Takehisa Kosugi’s score provided occasional tense undercurrents, alternating with (manufactured?) rich violin tones. At the end, when the dancers had completely asserted their sleek grace despite the distortions they wore, Cunningham turned them into pivoting silhouettes, forcing us to look once more at those bizarre shapes, which by then achieved their own beauty.

“Crises” dates from 1960 and had not been performed in New York since that decade. What a glorious return it made to the repertory. With Rashaun Mitchell full of panther-like springiness and delicious touch of wildness in Cunningham’s role, joined by four exemplary women, it took us inside a strange, exotic habitat where creatures checked each other out and engaged in exploratory contact. The slippery eccentricities of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano (eight selections were used) provided the briskly neurotic accompaniment, and the costumes were simple unitards in bright red, orange and yellow.

Every moment was highly charged and in sharp focus. Mitchell and Farmer opened the work — two untamed creatures both fascinated yet wary of each other. She slips her arm through an elastic band that is at his waist, upping the ante on their connection, which brings them to the floor together. Farmer slides into a haughty split, her leg stretched out across his, but before long she has moved on, leaving Mitchell to survey the new arrivals. Goggans is sleek and fleet, leaping assertively and circling Mitchell inquisitively. Julie Cunningham, whose lean, tensile presence was endlessly fascinating throughout this program, and Andrea Weber, more womanly and robust, seemed caught up in their own worlds — and, briefly, each other, when they slipped an elastic over one ankle apiece and maneuvered their free legs in wheeling battements around their linked, anchored limbs.

As he darted through, in between disappearances, Mitchell had momentary meeting with Cunningham, holding her raised calf like it was a precious object that inspired awe, then watching her slowly step and penche her way across the stage and off. His connection with Goggans (in the Carolyn Brown role; Farmer’s was originated by Viola Farber) was more intense, and mysterious. He held her by the arm as she arched backwards and stepped trustingly until she suddenly thrust her body horizontally into his arms and made swimming motions.

Mitchell’s feral intensity increased towards the end, as he squatted and turned his arms into angry paws, punching at an unseen enemy. His slithery entrance, advancing as he held himself up on his hands while his legs slid suggestively across the floor, was erotically charged and menacing. He wound up looking trapped, or perhaps overwhelmed, bent over and gesturing awkwardly while stretching an elastic, not knowing where to turn as the women appeared serene in their disengagement.

Cunningham’s “eyeSpace” — the title clearly a pun on both My Space and iPod — featured a gimmick of a score — audience members could borrow special iPods on which Mikel Rouse’s score could be played in “shuffle” mode — so that each person would hear a random selection of the 10 sections. (The score had a duration of an hour, while the dance lasted about 20 minutes, so each person heard their own particular one-third of the score.) About half the audience seemed to make us of the option, while the rest listened to the ambient score, which was also audible to those wearing the earphones. That score was a raucous mix of urban sounds, including sirens and many subway announcements.

Interesting layered vocals, nattering on about “two minutes, ”and a plaintive guitar-driven sounds that sounded almost folk-like were among the selections I heard. Meanwhile, the 12 dancers, whose unitards featured an arresting palette of blues, were performing rather sterile, coolly efficient sequences, often in unison. On first look, there was nothing quite as distinctive or disturbing as in the other two works on the program. Only at the very end, when Daniel Squires and Cunningham darted through a sly duet in which they seemed both drawn and repelled by each other, did it come fully alive.

Photos, all from eyeSpace, all by Anna Finke.

Volume 4, No. 38
October 23, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter



©2006 DanceView