Saturday, December 10, 2011

Seeing with Cunningham

"What is there to add?"

A writer colleague voiced this concern last night as we waited for the third program of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Legacy Tour at BAM.

Indeed. What to add about a durable dance institution only a year younger than I am, whose influence recharged dance-making in the modern age, whose generations of artists and students form a large part of the nervous system of contemporary and future dance, a company that, in a few weeks, will be no more?

What to add when so many words have been said and written over the years and, even more so, since the death in 2009 of its beloved founder?

I stayed for two of last nights three dances, for Pond Way (1998) and RainForest (1968), paying my respects and saying goodbye.

Dance does not leave us alone; it reshapes us. I believe that and spent an entire semester trying various wily ways to persuade college students of its truth. I could have done no better than to bring them all with me to witness the last Cunningham ensemble at work.

I know Cunningham's theater can train us to regard the solid earth with trust, to sturdily and cleverly connect with it for the physical and psychic strength to be a human being in space--more flexible, more capable, more creative. In this way, it reminds me of what I learned from women's and neopagan ritual back in the 1980s but demonstrated--stripped of mythic interpretation, of course--solely through the abstract actions of bodies on a stage.

On my way home last night, I found myself more than ever annoyed by the streaming Friday night traffic--vehicular and pedestrian--and wondering why. Then I realized that I'd just spent more than an hour under the influence.

After I got over being annoyed, I felt grateful for the time out of time that dance can provide. We have so few places of refuge, particularly in the urban environment, but sometimes dance can offer this chance to slow the breath, switch channels, detect subtle, often fleeting things that we usually miss out of habit and distraction.

Give yourself a steady diet of that, and there's no telling who you might become.

And so, thank you to Merce Cunningham, and his dancers, down through the years, for giving us all new ways to see, to imagine and to create.

BAM Next Wave Festival's presentation of The Legacy Tour concludes this evening with a 7:30pm performance of Program C: Pond Way, RainForest and Split Sides. Information here.

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

For information on the final performances of Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Park Avenue Armory (December 29-31), click here.

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