When Merce Cunningham’s troupe was here last, in March 2000, I was worried about my critical acumen because, on videotape at least, his dances put me to sleep. I found that seeing them onstage did the same–but decided that the dreamlike state they induced was the point. The 1999 Biped, which used computer-generated “dancers” on a scrim as well as live ones, gave me, between naps, a vision of the ideal and the real. It’s easy to see the line and look Cunningham wants. But it doesn’t actually exist onstage, because the dancers, no matter how masterful, always bobble or jiggle or waver. And though the scrim projections seem to represent an ideal world, I found the imperfections of the real dancers much more compelling. The word biped implies limitation–it’s just a creature that walks on two legs–but Cunningham and his computer collaborators transcend the dancers’ bipedalism, the choreographer by upending them or putting them on one leg, the computer jocks by making abstract wisps of their astral dancers. By the time the piece was over, I felt Cunningham had given me a vision of human power and vulnerability at once and was ready to hug him when he came out. A little old man with a huge, benign head, he could barely walk–he hobbled on bowed legs–which made biped all the more evocative. Performances by his company this weekend include Interscape (2001) and Fluid Canvas (2002) on Friday and Pond Way (1998), Native Green (1985), and How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965) on Saturday. Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-344-8300 or 312-334-7777. Through November 15: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $15-$48. Dance Center chair Bonnie Brooks gives preperformance talks on Cunningham’s work at 7 PM both nights. Note: There will be a three-day symposium on Cunningham beginning November 13; $50, which includes a “MinEvent” performance of his works by Dance Center of Columbia College students. Cunningham assistant Robert Swinston offers a master class Thursday, November 13, 6-8 PM; $15. Call 312-344-8300 for information on all events.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Carol Pratt.