Black Mountain MinEvent at the Wex

On October 6, OSU dancers performed at the Wexner Center as part of the Black Mountain Collee exhibition. Re-staged and directed by Daniel Roberts and Karen Eliot, the dancers performed pivotal works created by Merce Cunningham during this timeperiod. This is my response to the work as part of the requirements for my Music & Choreography course:

The Black Mountain MinEvent presented two pieces choreographed by Cunningham: Septet and Suite for 5/Dime a Dance. Choreographed to Erik Satie’s music Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire, Septet offered a rare opportunity to view Cunningham choreography that was, indeed, set to music and choreographed in time with the music. The melancholic tone of Satie’s score offered a serious, but gentle landscape for the dancers to balance, tilt, and change relationships with one another. The melody of steady piano notes highlighted the dancers’ shifts of weight, leaving room for the viewer to truly see the transformations from one pose to another. Despite the incredible strength and control of all the performers, I had the sense that the movements were precarious, and in that precarity was a humanity I do not often associate with shape and form of Cunningham technique. It was a welcome sensation.

Suite for 5/Dime a Dance offered a perhaps more emblematic example of Cunningham work, especially in regards to the music. Composed by John Cage, the piano score was sparse and often dissonant, giving plenty of space for the audience to see the action on stage with a sense of anticipation for what might happen next. It was clear that the choreography was not set in time with the music, and the constant surprise of the scarce notes drew my eye to unexpected places in the dancers’ bodies. A foot here, a twist of a shoulder there, I felt torn between watching the physical bodies themselves and then zeroing in on the space between them. The intimacy of the museum space made it all the more apparent that the music was live, and that the dancing was in real time. In many performances, it seems the dancers must lean back against the music for support, especially nearing the end when fatigue is high, but this type of work reveals a conversation between the dancing and the music that allows both voices to be heard. Somehow the body becomes more present, the breath more felt, and the dancing more courageous.

The rhythm of the dancers’ footwork stood out to me throughout the performance, but especially near the end of Suite for 5 when the dancers were running in turns around the space and then offstage. The room was quiet, but the dancers were confident in themselves and in each other. I sensed a softness in the landing of each step but not an ounce of hesitation. After hearing the unpredictable piano score, I almost expected the dancers to fall out of time with one another’s steps, taking us into another land of erratic rhythm, but the surety of the steps provided a sense of resolution to the dance as a whole. What had come before in the dance appeared to be problems of timing, of relationship, of shape, and in viewing those problems fleshed out on stage, I saw a glimpse of what I think Cunningham’s work offers: a sense of clarity and calm amidst an erratic, unsolvable world.

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