Upon his death, choreographer Merce Cunningham made clear his wish — his company was to tour for two years and then disband. Planning was a wise move as it avoids the legal nightmares that can ensue when parties battle over ownership of dances. When Martha Graham died, it took years of wrangling before the company could perform again.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company “The Legacy Tour”
WHERE: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson
WHEN: 2 p.m. today
HOW MUCH: $25 to $55
MORE INFO: 845-758-7900 or http://fishercenter.bard.edu
So when, Cunningham passed in 2009, his devoted group of dancers knew what to do — embark on its final tour. And after seeing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College on Friday night, one can’t shake a sobering sense of loss. Yes, the program of three landmark works — “Suite for Five” and “Antic Meet,” both from the 1950s, and his vigorous “Sounddance” from 1975 — were crisp and timeless, performed with more passion and commitment than ever. But you knew that when the curtain came down on MCDC that would be the end of an aesthetic that revolutionized the world of dance and art.
Granted, I have never been a huge fan of Cunningham’s dances. Their randomness, as the order of the dances often shifts from program to program, along with John Cage’s unnatural use of the piano and other instruments, always served the avant garde before the audience. Still, this duo’s tenacity in pursuing the new and untried must be respected. In addition, abstract expressionist artist Robert Rauschenberg often created costumes and décor with Cunningham. The results were dances that were even more baffling, but more intriguing.
What makes this final tour, known as “The Legacy Tour,” hard to handle is these works by Cunningham/Cage/Rauschenberg, who collaborated in “Suite for Five” and “Antic Meet,” will never be performed as well as they are now. Certainly, other companies will request his pieces. And artists from the company will stage them for these other ensembles. But no company can dance them like the MCDC because they are immersed in an art form that doesn’t exist outside of its studio. The MCDC is unique. It represents a time long gone. Its dissolving is a bitter pill.
The company, dancing right up until Dec. 31, will remain at the Fisher Center through this afternoon. And if you are a modern dance fan and feeling at all sentimental, I would highly recommend this matinee.
“Suite for Five” is Cunningham at his most sculpturally pure. Daniel Madoff, in blue, and Andrea Weber, in yellow, are the heart of the dance — extending their limbs while poised in simple and serene poses.
“Antic Meet,” with six, is a series of absurd scenarios that demonstrate that Cunningham did have a sense of humor. Here, Rashaun Mitchell stands out as he pads around with a chair strapped to his back or struggles to adjusts a sweater with too many arms and no opening for his head. His well-time tomfoolery is prime with Silas Reiner as they play a game of full-bodied leap frog.
“Sounddance,” the finale, makes the trip worthwhile. The stage is draped in golden curtains from which dancers emerge, one-by-one. Veteran member Robert Swinston leads the flock that bobs up and down with nonstop action. With music by David Tudor, there is a sense of entering a magical jungle where the dancers are bird-like creatures that bank and swoop to the watchers delight. Then, in an instant, they fly from view — a metaphor for the company’s end game.