Merce Cunningham Dance Company

I wasn’t going to admit this in print, but New Yorker critic Joan Acocella gives me the confidence to do so. In a recent review of 80-year-old dance titan Merce Cunningham she writes: “In the concerts of no other choreographer whom I regard as great do I zone out and start wondering what I am going to send my mother for her birthday.” The first and only time I watched Cunningham’s work, which was unfortunately on videotape, it nearly put me to sleep. I’ve read buckets about the man’s methods–the way he separates music and movement, his use of chance in devising dances, his cutting-edge deployment of video and computers–but don’t understand his work from the gut. Now I have the chance: the Museum of Contemporary Art is bringing his company here for the first time in 15 years. There are two works on the program, one of them a Cunningham “event”–a movement collage of earlier work and new material created specifically for a given site, in this case the MCA. The other is the 1999 Biped, a piece that includes computerized images projected on a scrim in a process devised and carried out by Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar: they attached reflective sensors to dancers’ bodies at the joints, used them to record the dancers’ movements on a computer, then used the computer to give these moving “dots” various shapes and colors. I’m assured there are live dancers too, and Alastair Macaulay in the Financial Times called this “one of Cunningham’s 1990s masterworks and perhaps the greatest achievement to date of his work with computers,” likening the piece to “a vast hall of stained glass windows.” Thursday, March 9, through next Saturday, March 11, at 8 in the theater of the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; $27-$30, $24 for MCA members. Call 312-397-4010 for tickets and information. There are two related events: an advanced master class by longtime Cunningham dancer Robert Swinston Wednesday at 6 at the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago studios, 1147 W. Jackson, and a concert by musical director Takehisa Kosugi next Sunday, March 12, at 7 in the MCA theater (call 312-397-4010 for both events).

–Laura Molzahn

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