Merce Keeps It Going

Nonagenarian Merce Cunningham still wows the crowd in Brooklyn with his latest show, Nearly Ninety.

BY Robert Hilferty

April 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

Cunningham's body
language is pristine and otherworldly -- abstractions of
classic dance positions, hieroglyphic friezes, semi-robotic
gestures, statuesque freeze frames, slo-mo yoga contortions,
ecstatic repetitions, and noble stillness drawn from the animal
kingdom. The dancers perform these in myriad combinations.
Rotating architectural renderings are projected onto the scrim,
one of which looks like an orbiting satellite, adding to the
lunar dimension of the proceedings.

When the scrim
eventually lifts, you see the source of those crazy shadows: a
kind of space station (designed by Tagliabue) fashioned from a
commotion of aluminum tubes, jutting staircases, and thrusting
platforms on which the musicians perform. In spite of the rock
talent, the score is no more "accessible" than the
other electronic or "musique concrète"
scores of Cunningham's Cage days. It's a stream of
noises made from scratching guitar strings, crashing cymbals,
and electronics further transformed through "live
electronics." There's no singing or words, just some
screaming.

As in all Cunningham,
dance is a parallel universe, created independently of the
music flow. At this point in his career, he might have shocked
by matching steps to a melody or beat. No go. Cunningham is too
much of a purist, consistent with a style that's his and his
alone. His dances are of such exquisite, distilled beauty and
tell no story except that of bodies -- their mysteries,
attractions, and interactions. With Cunningham there's always a
kind of apotheosis of human anatomy. His dancers are creatures
of astounding flexibility, balance, and poetry, especially
veteran Holley Farmer and relative newcomer Rashaun
Mitchell.

The audience was on its
feet wildly applauding when Cunningham was wheeled onstage, joy
beaming from his face. He's still a fascinating faun.
Nearly Ninety

may not be a masterpiece, but it is certainly great.

Tags: Dance

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