Abundance is a characteristic of Merce Cunningham's choreography. He wants the stage to be like life, lots of different things happening at once. The Anniversary Events, brought to Tate Modern by BITE and Dance Umbrella, take the principle to astonishing extremes.
Extremes and principles are part of Cunningham's history - his radical separation of music and dance, his use of chance in choreography. Event performances are another Cunningham tradition. Extracts from past and current repertory are arranged for unconventional spaces. These Anniversary Events, celebrate 25 years of Dance Umbrella and 50 of the Cunningham company.
There are three performance spaces, with dancing on all three at all times. The dancers walk or run from one stage to the next. You can wander around, watch one dance through another or catch glimpses of all three in the mirrored ceiling of the Turbine Hall. The music, graceful wailing violin, piano and electronic noise by Takehisa Kosugi, William Winant and Christian Wolff, is played on the bridge over the hall. Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project installation, a giant hazy sun, casts orange light over everything.
If you get frustrated by missing aspects of a performance, and I do, all this can drive you crazy. But everywhere you look, whenever you look, there is something wonderful to be seen. I kept meaning to leave one stage for another, only to find I could not bear to leave the dance in front of me. Once I was caught by the grace of a dancer just standing there, waiting for her colleagues to arrive.
Cunningham can make tiny movements seem lyrical and grand. Holley Farmer stands on tiptoe, circling her shoulders, letting little tremors run from head to foot. Then she shifts her weight on to one hip, stretching into an S curve. It is a small adjustment, so clearly projected that it becomes heroic. Then there are group dances. "It's like chamber music," said my companion: there is so much communication between the dancers that it feels like a conversation. In one duet, Jonah Bokaer stands braced while Lisa Boudreau leans towards and away from him, independent but linked. She steps into arabesque and dips forward, coming to rest with her chin on his shoulder.
Beside these adagio movements, there are fast allegro dances. Mandy Kirschner has a series of jumps on the spot. She bounces into the air and seems to stay there, arched insteps hanging over the ground. Daniel Squire holds an attitude and spins, hopping as he turns.
Every dancer is treated as a soloist, but the solos are always ready to flow into duets, into group dances. In these Events, all this happens right under your nose. There they are, some of the finest dancers in the world, so close that you could reach out and touch them.
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