Emotional times as the end nears for Merce Cunningham troupe
For the select group of dancers chosen for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the essential focus was working in the studio with Cunningham –- as teacher of intricate company classes and as the ever-curious, groundbreaking choreographer who holds a unique position among 20th century choreographers. His death in July 2009 was a momentous loss for the dance world, but an especially personal loss for these dancers.
All of them committed to staying on for the planned two-year world tour that would end -- in accordance to a Legacy Plan drawn up with Cunningham's own participation -– with the disbanding of the company. No company had ever scheduled its demise in this way, and the dancers were faced with making a solid commitment to sustaining the choreographer's work, but without his galvanizing presence.
“They were very clear that they wanted to keep us together,” says Andrea Weber, who joined the company in 2004. “There were certain things they were offering as commitments to us. If any of us got injured, we would be taken care of. They were committing to that so we would commit. I think we all wanted to do this together. I cannot speak for anyone else; for me there was no question. I didn’t have to think very long about it.”
For Silas Riener, a Cunningham dancer since 2007, “it was hard, because what drew us to the company was the prospect of working with Merce on new dances. The idea of performing revivals was difficult for me to wrap my head around. I took a long time to make the decision.”
He did stay, as did all those on the roster at the time of Cunningham's death. The extensive Legacy Tour on which they embarked -– performing 18 works spanning 50 years, including seven major revivals -– comes to a close this week in New York City, the company's home. The emotions have been building -– for dancers and audiences alike -– as the tour entered its home stretch and the company bid farewell to cities and individual dances.
“How lucky are we, to be able to celebrate this work for two years,” notes Weber. “Everyone has joined us and participated in the celebration. It’s a historic thing that we’re participating in, and we can definitely feel that.”
-- Susan Reiter
Photo: Dancers performing Cunningham's "Split Sides" (version A) set to the music of Radiohead, decor by Robert Heishman, costumes by James Hall, lighting design by James F. Ingalls. Credit: Jack Vartoogian