Lincoln Center Festival

July 16, 2005

Lincoln Center Festival
Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Mugiyono Kasido, Random Dance, Shen Wei Dance Arts

Lincoln Center, New York, NY

July 16–23, 2005

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Merce Cunningham anchored this year’s festival with the reprise of a tour de force, Ocean. Shen Wei Dance Arts has been the one constant in the last three festivals—a double-edged sword that boosts the company into international prominence yet also sets dangerously high expectations. Fresher to New York audiences were Random Dance of London, which brought a thrilling, visceral work, and Mugiyono Kasido, who performed a unique blend of Javanese dance and satire.

Other than Atlantis, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for Merce Cunningham/John Cage’s 1996 Ocean than the Rose Theater. From a stage-in-the-round, rings of seats ascended to the 112-piece Anarchic Orchestra, lofted by the balcony into hovering Sensurround. Coral and azure light, designed by Aaron Copp, filtered through a suspended mesh disk, underscoring the sense of immersion.

Prominent digital clocks marked Ocean’s 90 minutes, but they merely distracted from the cadence that unfolded organically in the dancers’ unhurried, purposeful phrases. The 14 dancers wore gold and indigo unitards and, later, dresses designed by Suzanne Gallo. They grounded their legs in geometric shapes, freely tilting and torquing their upper halves. Jonah Bokaer and Julie Cunningham shone—both possess technical clarity and unfettered self-confidence. The score, by Andrew Culver and David Tudor, ebbed and flowed with anticipation. The cumulative effect recalled Kandinsky’s paintings—abstractly miming nature, the spatial intervals between dancers striking emotional chords.

Mugiyono Kasido of Indonesia mixed humor, satire, and court movement in spare solos in the Clark Studio Theater. In Mencari Mata Candi, he took inspiration from stone carvings at the Prambanan Temple. Clad in a T-shirt and shorts, he flapped ornate paper paddles like crane wings and formed a makeshift roof. He set a formal tone, pushing deep pliés through forced arches, and maintained laserlike concentration. As the gamelan crescendoed, he pulsed his hips to trace faint hip hop rhythms, let his limbs loosen like a rag doll’s, and finally allowed a childlike charm to overtake his expressive face.

Kabar Kabur
shifted to political satire. The dining-table-sized platform that defined the stage spoke of confinement. One arm moved the other, puppet-style, and Mugiyono swiftly transformed through many characters. He tucked his folded body under a white T-shirt, which he stretched into the costume for a goofy Everyman’s Lamentation by sticking his face through an armhole. In the more traditional Bagaspati, Mugiyono wore a richly patterned sarong that flared out when he spun for minutes on end like a rapturous dervish. He moved with such discipline that he visibly breathed to the rhythm of the beat.

At New York State Theater, Random Dance explored neurological dysfunction in AtaXia, created in the wake of choreographer Wayne McGregor’s research fellowship in experimental psychology. The movement vocabulary, a collaboration between McGregor and the company’s 10 dancers, captured the shifting balance between control and breakdown. Building on ballet as a sturdy foundation, the dancers convulsed in contractions, wriggled their shoulders and torsos, and bobbed their heads during jagged leaps.

Design elements evoked sci-fi special effects. Costume designer Ursula Bombshell embedded tiny diode lights in the dancers’ tunics. The stage design, by McGregor and Lucy Carter, featured Plexiglas panels frosted white or stained red. Filtered through them, the performers transformed into eerie aliens. Michael Gordon’s pounding score, performed live by Icebreaker, crescendoed loud enough to vibrate a viewer’s body. Layered video simulated the jumble of thoughts and images in one’s brain at a given moment. All together, the elements enlivened the concept and supported technically remarkable performances of this rich, distinctive choreography.

Shen Wei is best known as a choreographer, but his movement is not always the strongest element of his productions, which also feature his striking set and costume designs. The structure of Map, a premiere at the State Theater, was dictated by Steve Reich’s score from The Desert Music. Shen Wei formulated seven “maps,” or processes, which traced kinetic observations about each musical movement, often quite literally. However, each motif felt stretched to the point of dissolving when matched to Reich’s tumbling score, and summoned sadly distant thoughts of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s brilliant Rain, also danced to Reich.

Shen Wei’s signatures include socked feet that are often turned slightly inward, paw-shaped hands carried limply in front, and an overused flat-footed shuffle describing an arc. His 18 dancers have these moves down, but much of his additional vocabulary appears superficially appliquéd—limbs placed in contorted positions, rather than emanating from an internal impulse; even simple relaxed arms took on an oddly stilted artifice.

The company also performed Near the Terrace, Part I (2000). Influenced by surrealist artist Paul Delvaux, Shen created a 3-D painting within the frame of the proscenium, tinting everything the color and temperature of ancient, unmelting ice. The dancers—topless and dusted in white powder, the women in voluminous skirts with long tails, the men clad blandly in short pants—moved glacially up and down a staircase, becoming sculptural or painterly objects rather than expressive individuals. The result: more a tableau vivant than a dance. See