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Misha serves Merce at REDCAT

June 8, 2010 |  7:56 pm
Roar photo

After Merce Cunningham died at his home in New York last summer, his company held an open-mike evening at the choreographer’s studio in Greenwich Village. Members of the company, past and present, spoke sadly of the loss of a father figure whom they barely knew personally but around whom not only their art and careers revolved, but their lives as well.

As one dancer put it, Merce strove to create dance that, like the space that Einstein described, had no center. Yet every time he came on stage, Merce was the center. Your eye went to him and stayed with him. An observer had no choice. Cunningham was simply too commanding.

I thought about that while watching “Roaratorio” over the weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall, followed by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s special guest appearance Monday night with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in a benefit performance at REDCAT. You can probably guess that even though Baryshnikov has performed relatively little Cunningham choreography, he has the Cunningham charisma. Baryshnikov danced but three short Cunningham solos in the 35-minute “Occasion Piece2,” which was assembled for this evening. If he was the center of attention, that was not because he tried to steal the show. Nor was it that Misha tried to be Merce. 

But at 62, Baryshnikov is the perfect mature Merce dancer. He draws your gaze to the movement of every part of his body, infusing the waving his arms or lifting a chair with expression. The current Cunningham dancers – young and appearing as if genetically fashioned to bring Cunningham movement into being – of course enchant. But the combination of Baryshnikov’s personality, experience and technique, placed at the service of Cunningham, best demonstrate how the work may continue.

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-- Mark Swed

Photo: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company in "Roaratorio" at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Bret Hartman / For The Times