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Lori Ortiz
Performance Reviews
Dia: Beacon
United States
New York
Beacon, NY

Merce Cunninham Dance Company— "Beacon Event"

by Lori Ortiz
July 6, 2008
Dia: Beacon
3 Beekman Street
Beacon, NY 12508
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company's performance at Dia: Beacon in New York's Hudson Valley is fourth in a series of company residencies there. The museum houses large-scale, austere, minimalist art and small-scale earthworks. This Cunningham choreographed "Beacon Event" celebrates his 90th birthday season and also commemorates Robert Rauschenberg's recent passing. The artist's legacy includes the décor for many classic MCDC works. We'll never know how he would have responded to the July 5th and 6th "Event."

The series aims to "directly engage artworks" in the museum. This "Event" happens in the Gallery devoted to four permanently ensconced monumental Richard Serras: the spiral "2000" and three "Torqued Ellipses." What a prospect!

The music is composed and performed by sound artist Newton Armstrong, David Linton, Stephan Moore, and avant turntablist Maria Chavez. It transforms the large rectangular gallery, and its immutable, Cor-ten steel Serras, into a unique surround sound system. Dansent electronics emanate from each massive shell-like sculpture and the result is of-a-piece. The music engages with the artworks, the dancers and the audience.

Watching the exquisite movement and tableaux of combinations, falls, aerial relevés, London bridge formations, inclined plank-like lifted bodies, is viscerally, and visually transformative. They perform a fascinating amalgam of Cunningham excerpts and new bits. But there's a disconnect when the igloo-sized sculptures inadvertently become décor for the dance.

The performing areas are three Marley covered squares at both ends of the gallery, and a small square in the center big enough for a solo, duet, or close-knit trio. A Marley path along one side connects the areas. It serves as a sort of backstage (open to view). There the dancers rest, hydrate, and scurry between the areas. The audience is strongly encouraged to move around during the 40-minute performance.

We're told that the dance takes place "all over," possibly including inside the sculptures. There are some chairs, but only for people who "really need them." Of course, most of the audience sat down or stood along two sides of the larger squares at either end. Generally, people like to sit and watch a dance. Hence, the dance was more frontal than ever, contrary to the Cunningham ideal dance in-the-round. Though we're told to walk around in order to see everything, in actuality, you could not see it all. While walking between performing areas, and entering each sculpture twice, (and finding at most, a lonely musician), large segments are blocked from view. The idea, from the program note, is "to allow not so much an afternoon of dance as the experience of dance." The experience of dance, as we know it, is of-a-piece. Here that's frustratingly withheld.

The problem is that the imposing Serras, which one could connect with in the similarly white, rectangular space of the Gagosian Gallery, do not fare well embellished by, or as embellishment for, dance. They are convex backdrops with a stand-alone inevitability. Though the sound ranged from interesting to wonderful, it struck me as odd that the architectural sculptures should function literally as acoustic caverns.

If the sculptures are décor, they obstruct and disallow us to see the dance as a whole. They're in the way. Serra isn't mentioned in the program. Yet the voluminous structures eat away about half of the space of the large room. Their powerfully felt presence can't be overestimated. The dancers at either end blend in with an array of complementing and close colored unitards. They engage us with varied patterns of tuned bodies in motion. The moments of stillness are restful for us also.

At close range, in this second performance of the day, the hard work of dance is visible. Andrea Weber's joyful energy is a highlight. Veterans Holley Farmer and Robert Swinston's rigor command undivided attention. The fourteen individual personalities as movement, the groups in viscerally felt tableaux, and the on-key color in the music and in Anna Finke's costumes made my dance experience. The blazing sun put us on edge. The dancers looked bothered, but persevered, invested. Rashaun Mitchell's series of thumping, flat-footed landings in second plié jumps emphatically affirm an element of resistance.

Cunningham is often asked if his chance or last minute mesh of collaborative elements always works. The Serras pose an insurmountable challenge. And their integrity is undermined. They repel 'help.' Serra's detractors famously say his installations block their view.

Yet, the imposing bedfellows and the heat uncannily contribute to "Event" as a dance experience with disputable problems— that's still inexplicably resonant.
Daniel Madoff in 'Beacon Event'

Daniel Madoff in "Beacon Event"

Photo © & courtesy of Anna Finke

Holley Farmer (lifted,) Daniel Squire standing alone in 'Beacon Event'

Holley Farmer (lifted,) Daniel Squire standing alone in "Beacon Event"

Photo © & courtesy of Anna Finke

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