Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cage/Cunningham

At the Baryshnikov Arts Center last night, two separate works by life-long collaborators and real-life partners John Cage and Merce Cunningham were brought together in magical combination. Cage's Four Walls (1944) was played by Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov with great dynamism and coherence, with Joélle Harvey singing the soprano part. Cunningham's Doubletoss (1993), in which a double roll of the dice determined the order of the movement sequences, was restaged by his assistant and dancer Robert Swinston. Besides displaying Cunningham's use of chance as a choreographic principle, last night's Doubletoss Interludes also exemplified another of his ideas: the independence of music and dance. One might not take one's eyes off the dancers but one's ears were hearing music with a pulsating life of its own.

Though duets, trios and quartets formed throughout the dance, each of the eight dancers performed like a soloist, as accentuated by their differently-colored shirts. The colors were set in contrast with the black meshes and skin-colored leotards the dancers changed into and out of constantly. The fluttering meshes seemed to underline the common spirit that animated each individual. This alternation of color and mesh was enacted in the staging too. A translucent black scrim divided the stage into a main front area and a back corridor. The dancers moved back and forth between the two realms.

The dancers showed the highly articulated torsos, the balletic footwork, the modern shapes that I have since learned characterized Cunningham's style. There were many beautiful moments. One, in which dancers went beyond the humanly possible by leaning into space, supported by their partners. Another, a hieratic image behind the scrim, a woman held up by two men was laid face up on top of a man lying face down. The choreography was consistently unpredictable. I followed the dance, movement by movement, with no predetermined shape to suggest what would come next. If therefore the dance lacked inevitability. it gave the thrill and sadness of transience.

The dancers were not all equal. Some, I thought, were slotting their bodies and limbs into shapes they first saw in space with their eyes. Daniel Squire, who danced as a full-time senior dancer for Cunningham when he was alive, was different. He fully inhabited the dance. There was physical intelligence as well as strength in his movements. Conviction too. He was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, a town that I visited on an evangelistic mission with my Oxford church many aeons ago. I'm very glad that LW asked me to see this special event.

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