Tour Ends, Cunningham Legacy Endures
Merce Cunningham’s Legacy tour will come to an end in New York City. The tour was organized to celebrate both Cunningham’s life and his dance company, which will disband in December after 58 years of showcasing avant-garde choreography. The Legacy Tour was at the Joyce Theater from March 22–March 27.
The first piece in the Joyce Theater performance was “CRWDSPCR.” The dancers wore outfits traditionally used for this performance, which included colors that segmented their bodies into 14 different parts, and the background was a blue screen that changed shades, while the strange electronic noises of John King’s “blues ‘99” complemented the dance perfectly.
The way the dancers responded to the music wasn’t at first obvious, which is likely because of Cunningham’s distinctive style. He didn’t believe that dance was dependent on music, and sometimes didn’t add music to his pieces until days before a performance. When there’s more than one person on the stage, they never follow the music the same way, most of the time doing different steps. In fact, the dance varies depending on what seat you’re in.
The second performance was entitled “Quartet.” It opened with an older man, Robert Swinston, dancing alone. The music in this piece, David Tudor’s “Sextet for Seven,” bore an odd resemblance to whale sounds that some people listen to in the hopes of being lulled to sleep.
This performance features a man who appears to be hovering in the background. Throughout each graceful and sweeping movement he makes, it seems as though he’s on the outside looking in. At one point, he even starts mirroring one of the female dancers wearing all red, but it’s as if she doesn’t even know he’s there. When the man moves forward, it’s as if he’s hitting a wall and can’t break into the world of the other dancers.
The third piece, “Antic Meet,” has not been performed since 1969. The music, John Cage’s “Concert for Piano and Orchestra,” started before the curtains opened; “Antic Meet” was the only piece that was performed with live music. The dancers wore all black unitards, which contrasted sharply with the white stage. This was the only performance containing that kind of conformity, where the dancers were all dressed the same.
This particular performance is all about physical humor, and Time Out New York quotes Cunningham once comparing it to “a series of vaudeville scenes.” The opening section of the dance focuses on one of the female dancers, Andrea Weber. Her small but expressive movements in this opening scene set the tone for the rest of the dance.
The role of the main male dancer was originally played by Cunningham himself. That put a lot of pressure on the two men who alternated this part at the Joyce, Rashaun Mitchell and Dylan Crossman.
The night I attended the performance, Mitchell was dancing, and he delivered a performance that completely embodied the spirit of “Antic Meet.” Mitchell threw himself completely into every movement he made and expressed himself brilliantly.
All three pieces encapsulated Cunningham’s constant vision; no two performances are ever the same for the viewer and no stage space goes to waste.
His is a style that is not easily mimicked.