April 25, 2017
“The French are good at looking,” answered dancer Anna Chirescu to Joyce moderator Martin Wechsler‘s questions as to how Merce Cunningham has found revival in France, most specifically with Compagnie CNDC - Anges/Robert Swinston. Swinston, who was the last assistant to Cunningham, seems to go against his wishes by continuing to set the repertory, and yet CNDC is not Cunningham 2.0, nor is it a museum company. Swinston’s stagings are not revivals, but reminders of the oeuvre’s timelessness. The program, spanning years 1966-77 provide a necessary insight into the boundless variety the consistency of Cunningham’s practice generated.
Conches, neatly arranged on a table, welcome viewers into Inlets 2. The musicians tinker as movement personalities emerge. Strictly sleek and brisk balletic vocabulary in shimmering unitards is infected by self-probing, ecstatic jittering, and seaweed swaying. Sometimes these ideas are kept distinct. Other times, both qualities are embodied in the same space. Most rewarding, however, is when lower bodies point with precision while arms shimmy in different rhythms above pelvic equators. There is an unthreatening ease to observing the complexity, training the eye to manage what is to come.
Place changes gears abruptly as a plagued soloist sharply shifts his relationship to space to the stabs of Gordon Mumma’s electronic score. Gender is highlighted with cartoonish obviousness – men in brown leggings and t-shirts; women in brightly colored saran wrap. The Beverly Emmons set, lacing the background with large floating Chex-Mix and spare polygons, breathes an immediately tangible dramatic atmosphere that suggests a post-apocalyptic crib.
Cage returns in textual form for How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run. John Cage director Laura Kuhn and Gene Caprioglio sit onstage, sipping Prosecco as they read personal anecdotes from the composer at different rates of dampened delivery. The most obviously human element we experience, it is treated just as algorithmically as the physical activity, clumped in various sizes, densities, and timings, laced with poignantly placed panning gazes.
In each, there are no movement melodies, but short recognizable riffs that focus, disperse, and recycle information. Partnering is constructed with the visceral wackiness and fascination-increasing repetition of an amusement park ride. Overlapped material whittles time’s relativity – a solo slowly continues through groups scurrying in and out, yet neither feels subsidiary or dominant; each event has the same merit unto itself when it occurs.
Amid vocabulary and sonic adventurism both iconic and ubiquitous, the spirit of each piece lies in its pacing and ending. Inlets 2 has an ebb and flow that culminates in a meditative series of unison bounces under individually driven arm circles. When, afterwards, they flee, we feel completion. There is one extended phrase in Place that is joined at different times by different bodies, but seen only aggregately by the sum of the group until the frightening descent of the curtain on the soloist stuffing himself into a bag. How To, rarely utilizing unison, gives everyone a chance at every activity at different points in time, such that even as the curtain signals an end to seeing, we feel the merriment eternally unfolding.
Additionally individual is the primary mode of bodily interaction. Inlets 2 resists eye contact for a three-dimensional group awareness. Soloist and ensemble are narratively segregated in Place. When company is present, the loner is kinetically deactivated, interacting more with the illuminated polygons he pulls on a rolling platform to animate the shadows of the suspended grates. The dancers’ shadows are not cast among them, informing their presence as potentially hallucinogenic. How To also incorporates vagrants, but in a way that highlights the group’s dutiful jollity through playground games of jump rope, hopscotch, monkey in the middle, and follow the leader.
The one interaction never meddled with is performatively cross-medium. Sound and image converge from sources who never meet. The simultaneous separateness of the performers and the togetherness of their performed action is a stricture kept invisible by the sense of freedom the nature of Cunningham’s collaborations render ostensibly limitless.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews