“If I kiss you please
Remember with your shoes off
You’re so beautiful like
A lifted umbrella orange
And white we may never
Discover the blue over-
Coat maybe never never O blind
With this (love) let’s walk
Into the first
Rivers of morning as you are seen
To be bathed in a light white light
-Kenneth Koch, “Spring”
Hoping the Koch works as an incantation to bring an early thaw as the snow turns to grey back pain and temporary depression. Plus, one of my favorite love poems and I’m typing this on Valentine’s Day while A. is – sort of, almost – sleeping. Love you, baby. The connection to the actual subject of the post might be a little more tenuous, but the feelings I get from Koch or Ashbery mirror very closely what I get from Merce Cunningham’s dances and, for that matter, the music of Nancarrow and some of Cage, this wild, delighted surprise.
In one of the best-thought-out decisions (in a long line of well thought out things), Cunningham came up with a legacy plan before his death last year which included a two-year world tour before the disbanding of the company. I’d only seen the company once in the early 2000s on one of my first trips to New York, so there wasn’t a chance of my missing this (probably) last chance to see it. That said, if I get the chance to see this in another place, you can bet I’m going to; they’re doing a total of 16 pieces, including things as well-spoken of as “Quartet” and “Ocean”.
We got to Mershon in enough time for the latter half of the pre-concert talk which included two OSU professors, one of whom had danced with the company in the early ‘80s and the other had been the lighting director in the early ‘90s. What came through most strongly in the talk was the collaborative spirit, Cunningham chose people for sets/costumes/light/music and worked up the dance completely independently, rehearsing the company in silence. To have that kind of belief in the people you’ve chosen is a lesson we should all take to heart, and that it comes off so seamlessly is a testament to the choices he and everyone involved made.
The show opened with “Crises” from 1960 with single-color body suits designed by Robert Rauschenberg and several of Conlon Nancarrow’s studies for player piano as the music, with the decor being long curtains and light pouring from the side of the stage, like mid-day Manhattan windows. One man and a variety of five women in different colored suits, the women sometimes danced in space with each other, but when the man entered, he always had a female partner.
A. thought that he was an ominous figure but I got this very sexual energy, this bliss and fun from the women dancing together but almost an S&M playful control – I”m on top, now you, now I hold you down, now you, to me, now I grab you by the shoulders, swing you around a full 360 degrees, then lay you down – sometimes so perfectly in sync with the music it was hard to believe they didn’t rehearse to it and sometimes just separate enough that the music was overlaying a rhythmic bed or a mist of melancholy that colored the movement without forcing it one direction or another. This was the piece that destroyed me of the two.
The second piece was Splitsides, with music by Sigur Ros and Radiohead, and in the most Cagean move of the night, it opened with five dice rolls to determine the order of the sets, the costumes, the sections of choreography, the music bed, and the lighting cues. So the dancers have rehearsed multiple ways and they don’t have anything to lean against or bounce off of, not the emotional content of the music, not a certain cue of light, only their body and their training, which is more than enough. While I preferred certain elements – the first set, the Radiohead piece, the black and white costumes, the second set of lighting cues – obviously the dancing in both was marvelous and again, seeing how it fit together against all odds was as much fun as watching the very virtuosic, very personal movements, there were more group pieces in this, fewer pas de deux, more about how the body relates to society, to the group.
One of those nights you come out grinning and glad to be alive. Thanks as always to the Wexner Center for bringing this.