Merce Cunningham Dance Company

October 10, 2006

Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Joyce Theater, NYC

October 10-15, 2006

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Cedric Andrieux, Jonah Bokaer, and Brandon Collwes in Merce Cunningham�s eyeSpace

Photo by Anna Finke, courtesy Merce Cunningham Dance Company


As one of the original great masters of modern choreography, Merce Cunningham doesn’t need to concern himself with gimmickry. Yet he shackled his recent premiere, eyeSpace, with the fussiness involved with the audience borrowing 400 iPod shuffles and headphones to hear composer Mikel Rouse’s score. Sure, the concept of “shuffle mode”—when an algorithm randomly selects the order of tunes—is too complete a 21st-century take on a Cage-ian model to resist. If only Rouse’s catchy pop songs fit the context better. An ambient soundtrack, played through the theater’s sound system, simulated street noise both in sound and irritation.

The vivid backdrop, by Henry Samelson, also proved to be a distraction. Its brightly hued meteor-like shapes clustered more heavily toward the lower half of the canvas, making it more difficult to see the blue-clad dancers. It only got worse with the use of some black-light effects, which created an intriguing look but tired the eyes quickly. And yet the strength and clarity of Cunningham’s choreography showed that it has little need for iPods or black lights.

The choreography recalls a game the surrealists used to play—“Exquisite Corpse,” in which four artists each drew one vertical quarter of a caricature to make an incongruous, but whole, being. In eyeSpace, each position of the upper body seemed to be randomly paired with any position of the lower body. Shaded degrees of variation were manifested in arm and head angles and positions. A few looked “correct” (or related to the familiar ballet or modern canon), but others seemed disjointed and improbable. Cunningham’s top-notch dancers handled everything in stride, but their ease hid the style’s fascinating, inherent complexity.

Less mixing and matching exists in Crises (1960), which looks more organic and human than any Cunningham dance in memory. Set to Conlon Nancarrow’s jazz/blues music, its movement is less cerebral, more earthy and true to human function. Robert Rauschenberg supplied the red and yellow unitards and some rubber bands for waists and ankles that facilitated brief bits of clingy partnering. The dynamic shifted dramatically at times, from a three-legged pair of women windmilling their long legs, to Julie Cunningham tiptoeing very slowly, turning to stare at the audience.

Scenario Minevent (1997/2006), which led off the evening, is most notable for Rei Kawakubo’s fantastic costumes of stuffed, gingham protuberances that still shock after nearly a decade. Fourteen dancers moved in groups, at times bursting out in energetic pulses or halting momentarily in fifth position. Cunningham and his company are nonpareil at creating concatenations of shapes connected seamlessly—a contemporary, flesh-and-blood version of the surrealists’ pastime. See