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Flash Review 3, 4-9: I Can See Clearly Now
Merce's Fresh RainForest

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

You know that feeling when you wake up for the first time with someone you're totally in love with? You look up at the ceiling, glowing, because it's such an expansive love that you're infused with infinite optimism not just about your love life and the person lying next to you, but your work, the rest of your social life, art, the world, the Universe? Well, this is the impact the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, kicking around those Andy Warhol silver mylar pillows in the 1968 "RainForest," had on me Friday at City Center.

Part of it was just the newness of the enterprise compared to much of what I've seen in the last year. I know, you wouldn't expect a dance created in 1968 to appear new, but I'd never seen this movement, at least in the combinations presented here, before. Yet right as I was yawning -- from the week --- and preparing to rest my chin in my paw, up flew the curtain and up, down, and sideways floated those futures-so-bright-I-gotta-wear-shades pillows (in the program, "Silver Clouds"), Tribble-like, only they were more a delight than trouble.

What was dazzling about the dancers (my colleague Alicia Mosier reviewed another cast last week, this was a new one to us), besides their pinpoint virtuosity, was, first, the way they owned these characters, surrendering themselves to Merce's choreographic conceit. Ashley Chen -- can I claim discovery rights? -- stunned with a deadpan comic presence as sharp as the angles he hit with his stocky barrel-chested body. I should explain: much of the comedy came in the way the dancers recklessly hit any pillow that got in their way. ("Hey you, Cloud, get off of my planet!") Not accidentally, not gently, not ironically, not tenderly, not post-modernly -- they just whacked them with their feet! All while looking straight ahead, as if they at the same time were almost oblivious to the pillows.

Another tyro was Jennifer Goggins, who shoots onto the stage towards the end, does a social dance with a partner mid-dash, and is generally fleet and quick and don't blink or you'll miss something.

I'd already noted Cheryl Therrien's pensive concentration earlier in the last Cunningham week, and the presence of 20 or so over-sized glittering pillow-clouds (some do float) did not distract her Friday. Gazelle comes to mind, except a gazelle wouldn't be able to maintain her grace with one leg arched high in the air, a hand gently touching it, torso slightly tilted. And a gazelle wouldn't keep your attention even when she collapsed in the brush, as Therrien did laying down between two pillows, until a determined Daniel Squire ferreted her out and called her back to action. ("Hey, you, get outta my clouds!")

Saturday was a strange day in the U.S. of A. On the radio I thought I heard that Seattle was rationing its water after a dry season, and meanwhile NYC has turned into my hometown of San Francisco, a cool drizzle enveloping you while you ramble. Back in the Village, I wondered how much even more new this piece, to David Tudor's glippety score, must have hit them in '68. Looking so new to my 2001 eyes, how must it have seemed to my parents? Sure, it's got a little bit of the other "2001" in it, leavened like a light Star Trek episode of the era, but the movement must have startled them like Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" shocked Paris in 1913, like Balanchine's "Agon" hit NYC in 1957. All I knew, as I looked up at the sky and watched the murky clouds roll over the full moon, was that it was the newest thing I'd seen in quite a while, and had turned my whole world fresh and new with it.

Accomplishing that, in addition to choreographer Merce Cunningham and the dancers already mentioned, were dancers Lisa Boudreau and Koji Minato, Warhol, Tudor, and lighting designer Aaron Copp.

For info on the upcoming Cunningham company tour, please visit the company's web site.

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