In celebration of the centennial of birth of Merce Cunningham (d. 2009), Cunningham’s works will be performed around the world this summer, and Compagnie CNDC-Angers performed their Jacob’s Pillow debut. The artistic director, Robert Swinton, was a student at Jacob’s Pillow in 1971 and a dancer with the Merc Cunningham Company at its final performance at Jacob’s Pillow in 2009.
Photo by Grace Kathryn Landefeld
The matinee opened with “Suite for Five.” Dancers clad in muted pastel unitards were accompanied by a pianist who played the piano keys and plucked the strings of the piano. The dancers held a similar rhythm to the pianist, a slow deliberate dance, however, there was no synchronization between the dancers themselves, nor was there synchronization between dancers and pianist. This is the Merce Cunningham way, intending for the music and the dance to be entirely independent, simply to share space and time together.
In “Inlets 2,” the live music was itself as much a part of the spectacle as the dance. While the dancing occurred in random fashion on stage, three musicians gently shook conch shells filled with water. The water-drip-ocean sounds accompanied the dancers in no straight rhythm or beat. The dance became almost dream-like, as the eight dancers moved on stage in unison, and independently. But even in the way that the water sounds and the dancers offset each other, in the way that nothing matched, the water sounds were so healing, and the lithe dancers’ bodies so hypnotizing, that the whole experience became a desensitized, mellow, ethereal, dream.
In the third and final dance, “How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run” (which seemed like more of a nod to yoga and aerobics rather than to soccer or football), was jarring and surprising. In Cunningham’s effort to show that everyday sound is just as valid or even more appealing than organized music, two people sat and told stories (slowly, quickly, at the same time, and separately), as the dancers jumped, kicked, and wandered around the stage. The result: both the spoken word and the dance competed for attention and the eyes and the ears battled for which part of the performance to pay more attention to.
The audience did not stand at the conclusion of this performance. Walking out of the Ted Shawn Theatre that afternoon, those who were well acquainted with Cunningham’s work seemed pleased, and those who were not seemed in a daze, unsure of what to think of the performance.
Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through August 25, 2019
by Karoun Charkoudian