Merce Cunningham Dance Company: The Legacy Tour

at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

December 08, 2011


Photo by Julieta Cervantes
If you, like many readers, find it impossible to get through even a few pages of James Joyce's virtually incomprehensible "Finnegans Wake," yet you want to delight in the comic allusions, entertaining word games, and magnificent inventiveness that literary scholars claim the book offers, then "Roaratorio," a 1983 dance piece choreographed by the late Merce Cunningham, is your solution. Presented on the opening night of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's four-performance run at BAM, the energetic 60-minute work is set to John Cage's complex sound score "Roaratorio, An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake," inspired by the befuddling Joycean classic.

The cluttered Cage score contains nonsense syllables, natural noises, a baby's crying, engine sounds, snippets of Irish folk songs, and recognizable word phrases here and there. Listening to Cage's multilayered musical mess with a discerning ear can yield the same kind of gratifying fun a reader might get from unearthing the pleasures hidden within the dense language of Joyce's book. And you can do so while simultaneously feasting your eyes on Cunningham's ensnaring dance, built of off-kilter body shapes, choppy rhythms, unpredictable movement dynamics, and geometric spatial patterns, none of which, in typical Cage-Cunningham fashion, bear any obvious or single relationship to the accompanying sounds. Cunningham's streamlined, nakedly technical, angular choreography forms the perfect visual antidote to Cage's musical mush.

Neatly costumed in gray unitards, each differently accented with a bold-colored T-shirt, tank top, single leg warmer, sock, or pair of pants or shorts, the work's 14 dancers give polished interpretation to Cunningham's challenging technique. And it is for this reason that the performance takes on a special appeal and historic significance. As no one knows if or how the Cunningham technique will be carried into the future of contemporary dance, the chance to see it performed, one last time, by dancers personally trained by Cunningham, is indisputably important.

When the esteemed, iconoclastic choreographer died in 2009, it was decided that his company would make one final two-year world tour—the Legacy Tour—of which the BAM performances are a part. In its remaining evenings at BAM, the troupe will present selected Cunningham pieces dating from 1968 through 2003. The company will make its farewell performance on Dec. 31 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City and will officially disband at the end of that show.

Presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. Dec. 7–10. Wed.–Sat., 7:30 p.m. (718) 636-4100 or www.bam.org.
 

 
Subscribe to Back Stage

More Cabaret dance

ADVERTISEMENT

Unscripted Blog


Visit Unscripted »

Sponsors

Back Stage Video

Duncan Stewart, director of casting at National Artists Management Company, talks about opening every submission and what he wants to see in a headshot.; casting; Duncan Stewart; headshot; new york city; open submissions; Duncan Steward, director of casting, talks about what he wants from an actor in a general meeting, mainly truth, likability, and lack of ego.; advice; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; tips; Duncan Stewart, director of casting, talks about what he expects from an audition and common mistakes actors make.; advice; auditions; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; Alaine Alldaffer breaks down the real role of a casting direcor.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting; casting director; Grey Gardens; play; stage; theater; Casting director Alaine Alldaffer talks about casting "Saved" and all the misconceptions about being an actor in New York City.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting director; NYC theatre; play; saved; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes what actors need to know before walking into an audition. (Part 1 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. (Part 1 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes how to give your best audition. (Part 2 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. Need only beautiful people apply? (Part 2 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teshner; soap opera; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about auditioning for soap operas. (Part 3 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; Videos for the Back Stage News & Features section.

ADVERTISEMENT