Editor's Note: This review below was the kick-off for extensive Picture This Post coverage of dance and music related to Merce Cunningham. See also--
Winding our way past the vigorous construction-in-progress at the Museum of Contemporary Art, we arrived at the anteroom to the MCA’s Merce Cunningham: Common Time exhibit to see Paige Cunningham already at work.
Dance Demo Opener in MCA Exhibit Lobby
With earphones on that perhaps let her hear a score—or perhaps helped her tune us out—Cunningham moved back and forth across her impromptu performance space doing and re-doing, seeming to be super self-critical of her every move.
A one-time member of the Merce Cunningham dance troupe—and not a daughter, wife or sister of her namesake—Paige Cunningham later gave us a short course on Merce Cunningham’s choreography trademarks. No small challenge to move torso, arm and legs smoothly and quickly but seeming independently! Some of these moves, we later learned, were ones that Cunningham first devised with the computer animation that he championed for composing choreography, considering the biomechanics of what dancers’ bodies could do more as afterthought.
Museum of Contemporary Art Curator Introduces the Exhibit
Hooked, we then followed the curators from both the MCA and Minneapolis’ Walter Art Center that is concurrently hosting a companion and 3X larger Merce exhibit, into the museum displays.
Eye-catching Rauschenberg as you enter
A mélange of dots—a wall of them, and mannequins in abstract dot leotards that seem cut out from the canvass are the first things your eyes are drawn to. This is Summerspace décor and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, the first in the Who’s Who of late 20th Century artists you learn were close collaborators with Merce Cunningham.
This list also includes: Andy Warhol; Frank Stella; Charles Atlas; Jasper Johns; Isamu Noguchi; Ernesto Neto, among others.
First among Cunningham’s collaborators was his partner in art and life, John Cage—and in this exhibit we get to see videos that capture some of their joint works.
The exhibit moniker “Common Time” references Cunningham’s pioneering collaborations with musicians and artists where he brought together artistic partners as equals, as opposed to the choreographer directing all aspects of a production.
Props and Costumes Intrigue
You see what you think are set designs, and then learn they were props.
You see improbable costumes such as dresses made from parachutes (Rauschenberg) or garments with protruding wool tube bulges (Rei Kawakubo) and then learn what you suspect—
THEY WERE DIFFICULT TO DANCE IN!
For this reviewer the pièce de résistance in this exhibit is Charles Atlas’ MC9, a nine-channel video installation that excerpts many of Cunningham’s works and interweaves it with movie opener countdown sequences and color blocks. You see Cunningham also, at various ages, dancing and making faces. This is Merce immersion en toto, more like a dream sequence that you can absorb. It’s not unlike the experience of living with any visual artists’ work over a longer period of time such that you intuitively come to understand their visual alphabet.
The MCA has much more in store to continue this stimulating focus on all things Cunningham, from dance performances to music and more. For a complete listing visit the Museum of Contemporary Art website.