featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 11-12: Mirror, Mirror, on the Ceiling
Co-Existence, Chance and the Remarkable Merce

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- The Merce Cunningham Dance Company brought down the curtain on this year's Dance Umbrella with its "Anniversary Events," on view last week in the impressively large Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern. The juxtaposition of this established American company in the hyper-modern environment of London's pride and joy was a remarkable sight. If you had never found Cunningham interesting in the past this performance was possibly the one to win you over. For me, "Anniversary Events" really emphasized some of Cunningham's trademark characteristics, such as the co-existence of dance, visual and aural environments and the chance methods within the choreography.

The events took the form of promenade performances, highly appropriate for an art gallery, so you could stand up close to the dancers or view them from the other side of the extensive space. Three performance areas were marked and linked by a walkway which extended the length of the hall. The dancers moved in, around and through the already existing art installation by Icelandic/Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. A powerful piece which draws our attention to how we as humans relate to the elements, "The Weather Project" features a huge yellow semi-circular form made of hundreds of mono-frequency lamps, suspended from one end of the ceiling. The strength of the light is dimmed by a fine water-based mist which is steadily circulated into the space to create an impression of street lamps in the fog, while the ceiling, in turn, is covered by mirrors so that everything underneath is reflected in it. Thus, the installation gathers audience and dancers into its landscape.

Although it was 'separated' from the actual dance events, the installation nevertheless played an important role in linking all components. The mirrored ceiling was useful for the dancers, who occasionally glanced up to check out where the others further down the hall were in their sequences, and for the audience, enabling them to get a sense of the performance as a whole. Indeed some members of the public spent the duration of the piece lying on the floor gazing Heavenwards. Although the musicians, Takehisa Kosugi, William Winant and Christian Wolff were positioned unseen on the floor above the dancers, their ambient sound collage was another imposing presence which filled the vastness of the space.

I enjoyed walking round and catching snippets of the various dance activities. It's an interesting place for the audience to be -- unfixed, de-centered and on the move. One can stand just beside a dancer, look down the hall and see three others and then catch a glimpse of a limb extended through the crowds at the far end. To be in close proximity to a dancer is always an intriguing experience, as you feel exposed as well as voyeuristic. Without the separation that we are so accustomed to in theaters, we almost become part of the dance itself. Nothing is hidden. Seeing the Cunningham company up close somehow normalized the dancers, making them seem less like the strange robotic things they often seem onstage and more like breathing, thinking, sweating humans.

While the dancers could have been swamped by this huge place, they managed to hold their own in the relationship of co-existence. At the beginning they walked into the installation purposefully one by one, dressed in Josh Johnson's psychedelic-colored leotards, resembling the crew from Star Trek ready to take their positions at the control deck of a huge space ship. The sharp physicality of their movements, the absolute precision of their steps and timing and their confident covering of space made them larger than life as they performed collages made up from old material as well as new. Sextets, solos, trios -- whatever the configuration was, it was performed with the same degree of focus and commitment. The incidental moments were nice too, as when they grabbed a sip of water or waited for their cues, wrapped in blankets, sitting at the feet of the audience.

The performers departed in much the same fashion as they had entered, looked down on by Cunningham himself, the proud general watching over his victorious army. Another space had been conquered.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home