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Issue Date: January 2009

New Moves

Tight costumes and improvisational moments are hallmarks of Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Anne Hartman
Merce Cunningham caught dance audiences’ attention in the 1950s by leaping past boundaries and defying expectations.

Today, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company — which Cunningham started in 1953 — stays true to the credo of its founder, whose novel approaches to dance earned him status as a legendary choreographer.

Now 89 years old and still active in the company, Cunningham ditched the notion that music and dance are dependent on one another. He often worked separately from composers and forged relationships with visual artists by displaying their work in his dances (Andy Warhol, for one, contributed silver pillows to a Cunningham piece). Cunningham also opted out of carefully planned choreography, frequently opening it up to improvisation and chance.

“By allowing chance to make the decision, you might come up with something that you wouldn’t conclude if you were restricted to what you thought was interesting or pretty,” says Trevor Carlson, executive director of the company.

The company will visit PlayhouseSquare Jan. 31 as part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s VIVA! & Gala Around Town series. It will perform three works:Fabrications,Sounddance andSecond Hand, a dance that debuted in 1970 and was recently revived after a lengthy absence.

Second Handallows the company to “work with Merce’s legacy,” Carlson says. The dance has elements of Cunningham’s eccentric approach, including tight, colorful costumes by artist Jasper Johns. Also typical of Cunningham, there’s no need to comb the performance for narrative or meaning — interpretation is left up to the audience, Carlson says.

“I think it’s critical for people to see a legend of our time at work,” Carlson says. “Merce created revolutionary works that remove the idea of any sort of narrative and just have movement for movement’s sake. It was absolutely a new way of thinking at the time he created it.”

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