Thursday, November 03, 2011
Encounter With Cunningham
Cunningham is a true artistic revolutionary. Since composing his first works in the 1940s, his innovations are many and radical. Perhaps most fundamentally, he has created a wholly new vocabulary of movement. Abandoning the established idioms of modern dance and ballet, he invents a lexicon of gestures that range from the most routine of urban-inspired activities to startlingly original, virtuosic sequences. He has introduced chance operations and made indeterminacy an important compositional device. He has crafted a dialogic relationship between dance, music, and visual decor where each is arrived at independently but performed simultaneously. He has “decentralized” performance space, dismantling the notion (derived from Renaissance perspective and the proscenium stage) that the actions of dancers radiate from a central point. In a Merce Cunningham work, the position of one dancer on the stage is no more important than that of another. Moreover, he has displaced the linear, plot-driven narrative of traditional dance with a dynamic, non-hierarchical field in which cause and effect no longer govern the performers’ movements. Since sequences are not rigidly thematized, they can easily sustain a myriad of interpretations, whose sheer variety celebrates the essential “singleness” of the moment in space and time.
John Rockwell (2005, in conversation at Stanford University)
On Saturday evening, Joshua and I will see—for the first and last time—the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
The company will offer a weekend of performances in Minneapolis as part of its farewell tour, after which the company will permanently disband.
Prior to the evening performance, we will visit The Walker Art Center in late afternoon and view the exhibition devoted to Cunningham. The exhibition includes full-scale stage settings for several Cunningham works, which The Walker recently acquired.
In preparation for Saturday’s performance, I have been doing some reading about Cunningham.
Alas, most of what I have read is sheer nonsense, entirely consistent with the cliché-ridden gibberish Rockwell uttered (as quoted above).