Merce Fair, NY

Merce Fair, NY


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Members of Cunningham’s company perform “Duets”
Photo from Merce Cunningham Dance Company website

Merce Fair, Lincoln Center Festival

Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York
July 16, 2011

Just Wonderful!

Spend a whole day with Merce Cunningham! See his work performed in the Rose Theater by both the current company and the Repertory Understudy Group. Learn some of “Field Dances” from Patricia Lent as you toss and kick the helium balloons created by Andy Warhol in the theater’s Atrium Lobby. Listen to former company members discuss their days with Cunningham and see videos from the company’s vast library of dance film. Talk with David Vaughan, company archivist, about the posters, books, and programs that document 60 years of work.

All of that was possible, and more, at the Merce Fair, part of Lincoln Center Festival 2011.

Most events went on all day, but each portion of the day had special times. At noon, Robert Swinston taught company class. The hour and a quarter demonstrated the detailed demands Cunningham brought to dancers: the use of torso, head, spine and feet that makes the choreography so complex and the dancers’ skill so powerful. At 3 p.m., the company performed “Duets” and “Squaregame,” two works repeated at the evening show. And, at 5:15 p.m., the amazingly skilled Repertory Understudy Group (affectionately called Rugs) did “Invention MiniEvent.” At various other times, Nancy Delva, who produces the Web site “Mondays with Merce,” interviewed former Cunningham dancers, and the music of John Cage, Cunningham’s longtime partner and a frequent collaborator, was presented in the Allen Room as well as during intermission, when “Entr’acte,” excerpts from Cage’s “Songbooks,” were delightfully executed.

The dancing was superb. “Duets” (1980) consists of six couples, all differently costumed by Mark Lancaster, each working within slightly varied energy levels and patterns. For example, Robert Swinston was a quietly supportive partner while Emma Desjardins danced rings around him. Meanwhile, Dylan Crossman and Melissa Toogood are frantically jumping and reaching skyward. Always remarkable to watch is the elegant dancing of Andrea Weber, this time partnered by Brandon Collwes. Around and through the group each couple employs their own special energy and shape. “Duets” is a gorgeous illustration of Cunningham’s ability to maintain complexity, yet present audiences with clear patterns, rich dance vocabulary and arresting work.

“Squaregame” (1980) is both play and drama. Large duffle bags are placed on stage. They serve as resting places, objects to be thrown and at one point, to be sat on and bounced. But out of the games emerges a solo that was once Cunningham’s. In the afternoon show, this was danced by John Hinrichs. His stature and gesture almost evoked Cunningham’s own presence, while Rashaun Mitchell’s evening performance was his own, powerful and unique. All the characteristic hand, head and shoulder movements were there, as well as the special use of feet and torso.

How impossible it is to believe that this work, so accomplished, so satisfying and so beautiful executed will be gone by the end of 2011. Yet this is the Legacy. Let us hope that somehow we will be able to see these wonderful events in the future.

The dancers of the company are Brandon Collwes, Dylan Crossman, Emma Desjardins, Jennifer Goggans, John Hinrichs, Daniel Madoff, Rashaun Mitchell, Marcie Munnerlyn, Krista Nelson, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott, Melissa Toogood and Andrea Weber. The understudy group includes David Rafael Botana, Stacy Martorana, Cori Kresge and Timothy Ward. Bravi to them all!

San Francisco, CA
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.