Merce Cunningham Dance Company concludes
The troupe takes its final bows in New York City with a multifaceted ‘Event’ that featured portions of 24 dances representing five decades of the choreographer’s work.
Reporting from New York —The Merce Cunningham Dance Company took its final bows on New Year’s Eve, performing a multifaceted “Event” worthy of its innovative founder’s belief in the endlessly fascinating possibilities of the body in motion.
This last of six “Park Avenue Armory Events,” performed for a fiercely devoted audience of about 1,500 that included more than three dozen company alumni, dazzled with its multiplicity of perspectives as the 14-member troupe navigated among three stages placed within the armory’s 55,000-square-foot drill hall — where Cunningham’s 2009 memorial took place.
Daniel Arsham’s suspended cloud-cluster sculptures, and the reverberant newly commissioned scores by veteran Cunningham collaborators David Behrman, John King, Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff, combined to generate an atmosphere of reverent celebration.
“Events,” a distinctly Cunningham innovation — flexible assemblages of excerpts and complete works — were a staple of the company’s performances for decades, often done in nonproscenium settings. This one — selected and assembled by Robert Swinston, the 30-year company veteran who had served as director of choreography — included portions of 24 Cunningham dances representing five decades. From various vantage points — including six elevated platforms that offered a panoramic perspective on all three stages — one could marvel at dances ranging from the wildly feral to the privately meditative.
Many of the dancers performed solos — some of them material they were performing for the first time. In an unusual move, a solo from the 1977 “Fractions” was interpreted by both a woman and a man — Andrea Weber and Rashaun Mitchell. The final work danced on one of the stages was “Cross Currents,” a seven-minute 1964 trio originally performed by Cunningham, Carolyn Brown and Viola Farber. Brown, whose association with the choreographer dated to 1953, was in the audience.
Each company member — representing the final group of dancers trained and selected by Cunningham — gave ample evidence of the precision, daring and mastery they had achieved through their culminating two-year Legacy Tour.
Cunningham would have appreciated the split-second choices the audience was asked to make as 21/2 hours of such demanding choreography was served up in less than an hour. When the “Event” concluded with the lights dimming as each of the three stages emptied, a roar went up and developed into a 10-minute ovation.
The dancers bowed on each stage, then collected and held hands on the central stage for repeated bows. Ultimately, they had to leave us, and with their final exit, a powerfully significant and influential era in contemporary dance had come to a close.
Photo: Members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Jamie Scott and Dylan Crossman. Credit: Stephanie Berger Photography