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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
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.
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