On the night that would have been Merce Cunningham’s 100th birthday, dancers on three stages in London, New York and Los Angeles honoured the choreographer’s legacy with the largest Cunningham ‘event’ ever undertaken.
Cunningham defined these ‘events’ as performances lasting about 90 minutes and consisting of pieces in the company’s repertory. These pieces intersect and overlap; some are introspective, some comic, others dramatic.
Cunningham’s choreography, with its clean lines and minimalist aesthetic, requires impeccable control and precision from its performers. Yet it’s not as serious as it sounds. Alongside his collaborators, most famously John Cage, Cunningham liked to experiment with chance and, in tribute to his methodology, the dancers rehearsed in silence. They only heard the live music accompaniment – a crackling and eclectic soundscape – on the night of the actual performance.
Not that this is evident from watching. Calm and confident, each of the 25 brightly costumed dancers – a refreshing mix of ages, energies and bodies – offer their unique perspective on his distinctive style.
The work fluctuates between slow, sustained movements and fast, fleeting movements. Occasionally a dancer brings an object into the mix – an umbrella, a chair, a plastic sack. The overall effect is sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted and sometimes surreal.
At 90 minutes with no interval, it’s an evening for lovers of dance, but as a celebration of one of the most iconic choreographers it makes a fitting tribute.