Sunday, July 10, 2011

Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Dartmouth College

The Legacy Tour is the final performances of the MCDC. The tour began in 2009 two years after Merce Cunningham's death at age 90. On July 8 and 9th the tour came to Hanover, New Hampshire. What a treat to see the Cunningham dancers perform work from 1958, 1968, and 1976. They presented three of the seven dances that have been reconstructed since Merce's death. Reviving these dances without Merce has been made possible through an archiving process set up in called "Dance Capsules." It was decided over ten years ago by Cunningham that his company wouldn't continue after his death, but that his work would be preserved for future use by other companies. The dance capsules contain extensive notes by Cunningham himself, and from the dancers. They contain DVD's of performances and details about music, costumes, and sets. Reconstruction of the 3 dances presented at Dartmouth were overseen by company director of choreography Robert Swinson and dancers Sandra Neels, Carolyn Brown, Meg Harper, Gus Solomons Jr. and Jennifer Googins.

RainForest (1968) began with electronic sounds of clicks, beeps and buzzing that radiated throughout the auditorium and was created by David Tutor. The curtain opened to reveal dozens of large silver floating pillows designed by Andy Warhol. They filled the space and as the dancers started to move they kicked them with their legs or pushed them as their arms swept the pillows gently floated, slowly finding a new spot on the stage. All very strangely mesmerizing. The dancers seemed birdlike at times with long limbs perching on balance with total control. This helped convey the power of the creatures inhabiting a forest. It was magically danced by Dylan Crossman, John Hinrichs, Daniel Madoff, Krista Nelson,Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood.

Antic Meet (1958), a silly playful dance presented in ten short vingettes had the same kind of feel as Paul Taylor's 1956 dance 3 Epitaphs. They both are strange, funny, and goofy. Cunningham's dance featured music by John Cage that was performed live with sets and cosumes by Robert Raushenberg. Lots of history in this Legacy Tour. Squaregame (1976) ended the evening terrifically danced by 13 company members. This troupe is amazing to watch regardless of what you think of Cunningham's radical approach to dance and choreography. I always remember going to a concert of the MCDC in Minnesota in the 1970s and being amazed that people were walking out of the theater in protest. Nowadays when that happens I know the choreographer might be truly someone to watch. At the American Dance Festival in 2008 we witnessed French Choreographer Maguy Marin's performance of Unwelt as many in the audience left their seats in the middle of the dance. I, along with my fellow NEA dance criticism fellows felt differently, we were blown away by the piece.

It was a bittersweet show for many in the Dartmouth audience who first saw the Cunningham company perform at the college in 1973. MCDC returned to perform again many times after that year. Former dancers, university professors and students, and devoted fans filled the auditorium and at the end of the performance they stood and thanked the company for coming one last time to this small college town.

Merce Cunningham Dance Compnay at the Spaulding Auditroium, Dartmouth College July 8, 2011

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