Merce Cunningham and Olafur Eliasson

Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Olafur

source: harlequinfloors
The Merce Cunningham performances, the final events of Dance Umbrella’s 25th Anniversary season and co-incidentally in MCDC’s 50th year, took place in the vast, 152 meter long Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern within the embracing environment of Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project. Cunningham’s company of fifteen dancers performed on three Harlequin Liberty dance areas, linked by a Harlequin Studio dance surface, permitting the artistes to move from one area to another and for the audience to promenade and view the performance from different vantage points. Eliasson’s Weather installation included a 15 meter diameter artificial sun powered by 240 low pressure sodium street lights, interacting with mirrors and stage fog effects to create a surreal monochromatic setting for the performances.

The choice of Harlequin Liberty floors was in little doubt as MCDC’s Bethune Street studio in New York has also recently been equipped with a permanent installation. But, what clinched the specification of the portable Liberty panels was the ability to lay the floor areas at express speed each evening after the gallery closed to the day visitors. To assist in this process Harlequin’s new storage carts enabled the floor to be rapidly dissembled after each night’s performance, then wheeled away for secure storage. Cunningham has achieved a global reputation for modern dance choreographed and improvised for unconventional venues. Thanks to Harlequin Liberty, without compromising quality, performers are able to dance on the same flooring on tour as they enjoy in the best equipped studios. The technical team, comprising Simon Byford of Dance Umbrella with Trevor Carlson and Will Knapp of MCDC, worked closely with Harlequin’s Monica Arnott to plan, supply and deliver the complete package to a demanding schedule.
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source: theguardian
Then Merce Cunningham first agreed to stage a series of dance Events in the Turbine Hall, he knew he’d be competing with an awesome space. What he didn’t know was the effect that Olafur Eliasson’s recently installed Weather Project would have on the venue.

Eliasson’s cosmic sorcery of lights and mirrors not only seems to double the scale of the hall, but inspires everyone present to feel as if they’re walking blindly off the planet into the setting sun.

But the point about Cunningham Events is that each performance is uniquely tailored to the venue where it’s staged. So his first and obvious strategy for animating this vaulting emptiness is to make his audience a part of the show.

The hall is divided into three performing areas, around which the public is free to roam. For the first 10 minutes there is no dancing, only the sound of Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff’s music spooling jagged chords from far away systems.

The crowd becomes so intent on watching its collective reflection in the high mirrored ceiling, that the speed with which the 15 dancers appear causes a riffle of panic.

As the performers peel on to the separate dance areas no one knows whether to focus on the woman dancing the quiet solo in front of them or to go chasing after the flurry of activity at the other end of the hall.

But the constant genius of Cunningham’s work is its ability to move into large mysteries. As the music changes to a dense abrasive riff, a trio of dancers becomes silhouetted against Eliasson’s giant yellow sun. Their tightly angled jumps acquire an apocalyptic ferocity, as if they were a dying species hurling defiance against extinction. A change of lighting, accompanied by the sound of gamelans, and a sculpted quartet takes on a gilded, ritual solemnity.

The extreme architecture of the Event works its own magic. At one moment you can be looking down the hall and watching the piece unfold in magnificent vistas. Then you can switch focus and see some of the world’s most perfectly finessed dancers performing just inches away.

The pleasure of making sense of this Event feels like an intensely secret one – until you see the experience reflected on the faces of everyone around.
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source: mercecunninghamorg

MERCE CUNNINGHAM (1919-2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. Through much of his life, he was also one of the greatest American dancers. With an artistic career distinguished by constant innovation, Cunningham expanded the frontiers not only of dance, but also of contemporary visual and performing arts. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative discipline have yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.

“IF A DANCER DANCES – WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS HAVING THEORIES ABOUT DANCING OR WISHING TO DANCE OR TRYING TO DANCE OR REMEMBERING IN HIS BODY SOMEONE ELSE’S DANCE – BUT IF THE DANCER DANCES, EVERYTHING IS THERE. . . OUR ECSTASY IN DANCE COMES FROM THE POSSIBLE GIFT OF FREEDOM, THE EXHILARATING MOMENT THAT THIS EXPOSING OF THE BARE ENERGY CAN GIVE US. WHAT IS MEANT IS NOT LICENSE, BUT FREEDOM…”

MERCE CUNNINGHAM (1952)
Of all his collaborations, Cunningham’s work with John Cage, his life partner from the 1940s until Cage’s death in 1992, had the greatest influence on his practice. Together, Cunningham and Cage proposed a number of radical innovations. The most famous and controversial of these concerned the relationship between dance and music, which they concluded may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another. The two also made extensive use of chance procedures, abandoning not only musical forms, but narrative and other conventional elements of dance composition—such as cause and effect, and climax and anticlimax. For Cunningham the subject of his dances was always dance itself. Born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919, Cunningham began his professional modern dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944 he presented his first solo show and in 1953 formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his groundbreaking ideas. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed more than 150 dances and over 800 “Events.” Dancers who trained with Cunningham and have gone on to form their own companies include Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Karole Armitage, Foofwa d’Immobilité, and Jonah Bokaer. Cunningham’s lifelong passion for exploration and innovation made him a leader in applying new technologies to the arts. He began investigating dance on film in the 1970s, and choreographed using the computer program DanceForms during the latter part of his career. He explored motion capture technology to create décor for BIPED (1999), and his interest in new media led to the creation of Mondays with Merce. This webcast series provides a never-before-seen look at the Company and Cunningham’s teaching technique with video of advanced technique class, Company rehearsal, archival footage, and interviews with current and former Company members, choreographers, and collaborators.

An active choreographer and mentor to the arts world until his death at the age of 90, Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). He also received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2009, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2005, the British Laurence Olivier Award in 1985, and was named Officier of the Legion d’Honneur in France in 2004. Cunningham’s life and artistic vision have been the subject of four books and three major exhibitions, and his works have been presented by groups including the Ballet of the Paris Opéra, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, White Oak Dance Project, and London’s Rambert Dance Company. Cunningham passed away in his New York City home on July 26, 2009. Always forward-thinking, Cunningham developed the precedent-setting Legacy Plan prior to his death, to guide his Company and ensure the preservation of his artistic legacy.