Review: After Merce, the dances continue and continue to inspire

When a choreographer dies, the survival of the work is always in danger. When Merce Cunningham passed away in 2009, the risk was felt p...

When a choreographer dies, the survival of the work is always in danger. When Merce Cunningham passed away in 2009, the risk was felt particularly acute. In the tradition of modern dance, the custodian of any choreographer’s legacy has typically been a company of the same name, but Cunningham’s legacy plan called for the disbandment of his troupe in 2011.

A decade later, the vital signs of this legacy look good. Thanks in large part to Merce Cunningham Trust, his dances are still widely and well performed. And his work is alive in another crucial sense: as inspiration for living dance designers.

This is the aim and purpose of “In Conversation with Merce”, a collaboration between the Trust and the Baryshnikov Arts Center. For a 45-minute virtual program, available free on the centre’s website until September 30, sections of Cunningham’s “Landrover” (1972) are followed by two new pieces created in response by Liz Gerring and Kyle Abraham. All sides of the conversation are strong.

“Landrover”, directed by Cunningham alumnus Jamie Scott, is performed by Jacquelin Harris and Chalvar Monteiro, both notable members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The fact that these dancers are black is remarkable, since only four black dancers (all male) have ever been in Cunningham’s troupe (and never more than one at a time). Their participation here – and with Abraham and other black dancers at the 2019 Cunningham event “The night of 100 solos” – is one of the ways in which Cunningham’s legacy extends posthumously.

And their performances are proof that it is not necessary to have been a member of the Cunningham Company to dance his work in a thrilling way. “Landrover” is full of vertiginous overhang in the middle of the bends with one leg raised. Monteiro and especially Harris are handling these changes of direction and other insights with amazing clarity and aplomb.

Of the two choreographers who responded, Gerring is by far the more obvious choice. As she puts it in an introductory video to her piece, she has “had this dialogue” with Cunningham her entire career: She has chosen former Cunningham dancers and has spoken in interviews of an influence that critics like me often point out.

In his new “Dialogue”, performed by Mariah Anton and Cemiyon Barber, the influence is clearer than ever, but the piece is still recognizable to Gerring. It’s faster and sportier than “Landrover”, more choppy in tempo and texture (difference accentuated by the sometimes hyperactive editing of Tatyana Tenenbaum, who directed the videos). Gerring takes Cunningham’s tilts and torque and makes everything a little harder.

As she notes, in most of Cunningham’s duets, “two individuals are very closely related but remain separate”. His play follows this example beautifully, as does Abraham’s “MotorRover”, performed by Claude Johnson and Donovan Reed.

In his introduction, Abraham talks about being inspired by the partnership in “Landrover”, the shapes and balances that require two bodies. But while such complex and complementary arrangements abound in Cunningham’s play, they are actually rare in Abraham’s. And Abraham’s partnership is much more conventional – the dancers holding hands, as in ballet, where in Cunningham the points of contact can be one dancer’s wrist below the other’s elbow, anything but a grip. .

The deeper connection between Cunningham and Abraham – and not just here – is a rare sense of quiet focus, purifying mind-purifying contemplation. In silence, Johnson and Reed make movements (rolls, shrugs in street language) not found in Cunningham’s dance and wonderful little sequences (a rotating arm followed by a pivoting head) that Cunningham could have invented it but didn’t.

Even though “Dialogue” and “MotorRover” are exercises or homework, they don’t feel pressured. They give the phrase “after Cunningham” a hopeful sound.

In conversation with Merce

Until September 30,

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: After Merce, the dances continue and continue to inspire
Review: After Merce, the dances continue and continue to inspire
Newsrust - US Top News
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