Merce Cunningham, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

After six decades of making dances, Merce Cunningham is still prolific, still questioning.

After six decades of making dances, Merce Cunningham is still prolific, still questioning. Views on Stage, a world premiere co-commissioned by Dance Umbrella, is the driest work I've seen from Cunningham. It's followed by BIPED, a lushly inventive masterpiece.

This performance of Views on Stage was the first night, but it's also the end of a process. With Cunningham, music, choreography and designs are created independently, then brought together.

Over the course of a British tour, the company has shown single aspects of the piece. The John Cage score was played at the Brighton Dome; the steps for Views on Stage were performed at the Sheffield Lyceum, without designs or music. I rather envy that Sheffield audience. Watching the complete work, I kept trying to look past its ugly designs. Ernesto Neto's set hangs heavily over the dancers. James Hall's costumes are a nasty skirt and leotard.

The steps are beautiful, but they don't have Cunningham's usual imagery and invention. There are stretches of inaccessible choreography, detailed but hard to grasp. It's academic: taut and cold. Some lovely moments stand out. Rashaun Mitchell leans to one side, tilting until you think he must fall over, then curling easily up again. Holley Farmer circles Daniel Roberts, jumping over his raised leg every time she passes.

BIPED makes this a five-star performance. It's one of the most innovative dances of the last decade, and one of the most beautiful. This time, the elements make a perfect whole. The set, by Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser, is computer-generated. Light is projected onto gauze at the front of the stage, creatingvirtual dancers.

Aaron Copp's lighting makes bright squares under the dancers' feet, light and darkness flicking across the stage like shadows. Suzanne Gallo's metallic costumes glint with petrol colours. The score, by Gavin Bryars, is an enveloping wash of cello and electronic chords. BIPED starts with a sequence of solos. Cédric Andrieux steps into position, one leg raised. Then he turns, bends, stretches, changing pose again and again. Each position has absolute muscular clarity, yet Andrieux shapes this solo into a single, long-breathed phrase. The solos overlap into group dances. Three women rest, side by side, in the same pose, like a frieze. Then they dart off.

Steps are echoed from one dancer to another, repeated and transformed. Several dancers take up a straight-legged stance, feet far apart. Then, astonishingly, Andrea Long uses that pose to glide forwards - a wide-legged bourrée that sends ripples of movement up through straight legs to shimmying hips and waist.

Cunningham choreography can look like nature. Long comes to a halt, and three men lift herlike a swallow in flight.

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