How the Dance World is Celebrating a Century of Merce Cunningham
Malpaso Dance Company in Cunningham's Fielding Sixes. Photo by Nir Ariel, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Merce Cunningham in his Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of ThreeGerda Peterich, Courtesy Blake Zidell and Associates
Additional programs are happening everywhere from Cuba to France to Missouri. Although the Trust was not directly involved in some of these homages, such as a revival of Jérôme Bel's Cédric Andrieux in Italy or commissions during a Merce-focused 25th Harkness Dance Festival at 92Y, this expansive approach fits hand in glove with how the Trust aims to extend and preserve Cunningham's legacy. "Because of who Merce was as an artist, we have the opportunity to make connections beyond the dance field, beyond his technique and beyond his repertory, to the way that he was with his collaborators," says Trevor Carlson, Centennial producer and Cunningham trustee. "It's fantastic to be in a workshop, for example, with a group of people that includes an architect, an emergency-care technician, two choreographers and a filmmaker, to see how they interact thanks to tools provided by Merce."
Ballet West in Cunningham's SummerspaceBeau Pearson, Courtesy Richard Kornberg & Associates
Look no further than the Night of 100 Solos roster for evidence of this bridge between past and future. Staging artists and associates include more than 40 Cunningham company alumni, whose coaching sessions will be documented and added to the Trust's archival Dance Capsules. Blue-chip performers, some of them making their debuts in Cunningham's choreography on April 16, include Kyle Abraham, Matthew Ball, Peiju Chien-Pott, Siobhan Davies, Francesca Hayward, Sara Mearns, Vicky Shick, Jermaine Maurice Spivey and Beatriz Stix-Brunell.
"To celebrate his birthday in a way that signals what the legacy is really about, it has to take place in more than one city, so we have programs in Iowa City, in Oklahoma, in Miami," says Ken Tabachnick, executive producer of Night of 100 Solos. "They're all part of a conscious design to really push the work, process and ideas as broadly as we possibly can. The entire Centennial has been built around that concept—that the legacy has a life far beyond performance."
Mention "flamenco" to anyone in the Cuban dance scene, and they are likely to bring up Irene Rodríguez. Artistic director of Compañía Irene Rodríguez, Cuba's premiere flamenco company, Rodríguez has shared the stage with such renowned flamenco artists as Eva Yerbabuena, María Juncal and Antonio Gades. She is also a faculty member at Havana's Fernando Alonso National Ballet School, and has served as a choreography consultant at Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.
Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.