Review: Merce Cunningham dance show reflects unique vision

Editor's note: Laura Parkinson is part of Critic's Corner, an arts criticism program at Lawrence High School. She'll be offering a student perspective on several Lied Center productions this season.

Dance, just like life, happens. Choreographer Merce Cunningham has pioneered this principle, and it is shown through his art. With the roll of a die, he can create a new dance piece and prove that dance can truly happen by chance.

Cunningham has written of "that single fleeting moment when you feel alive." On Tuesday evening, when the New York-based Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed at the Lied Center, the audience could grasp that feeling through the energy and presence of the dancers.

The dancers were agile and proved their athleticism through intricate and forceful moves. While one dancer flew across the stage in a fury, another might twist his torso and back in contortionist ways. Each move was clear and concise and fit the space through the use of the stage and various levels. The audience could choose to focus on one dancer or on the image as a whole: Each would provide a new and different perspective. Choosing what or whom to focus on became the most difficult part for the audience.

While the moves might have looked random, it was all part of a greater order of chance occurrences. The pieces and moves fit the greater portrait of life, each dancer existing entirely in the moment. Jagged or soft lines, twists or jumps all resembled the motions of living life to the fullest.

This emotion was furthered through the costumes and sets. During the first piece, called "Views on Stage," what looked like blobs of glue dripping from the ceiling added to the modern look and feel of the performance. Trying to figure out what it resembled was more difficult, but modern dance is a study in perspectives. Like a melting candle, time dripped from the ceiling and the performers danced beneath it.

The second piece, "Split Sides," consisted of a unique combination of different chances. At the beginning, Cunningham and members of the audience helped choose what would be performed by the roll of a die. One option was for the choice in costumes; another was for a choice in the background and so on. The dance featured music by Radiohead and Sigur Rós. To a mix of eclectic sounds, the dancers showcased their moves in what became - because of the chance and randomness of its selection - an entirely new and different combination from any they had ever done before.

How can this happen? First of all, the dancers train and practice in silence and sometimes do not hear the music until the performance night. It was truly unique to see art happening and being created before the audience's eyes. Finding a purpose for each dance becomes obsolete, as dance for Merce Cunningham simply needs to be absorbed and interpreted for the feeling it evokes in individuals. After all, dance is all about chances.


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