Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

February 2, 2012

Merce Cunningham

The Legacy Plan


Art, Articles

On the last night in December, on the last day of the 2011, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed for the last time. The avant-garde choreographer passed away in 2009 and the Park Avenue Armory Events, as the piece was called, was an immersive celebration of his legacy, embodying Cunningham’s experiments in chance procedures and collaborative work. (He famously partnered with John Cage nearly 50 years, who, according to company lore, was not only the music advisor, but in the early years, the bus driver.)

In the Armory’s 55,000-square-foot drill hall, Events cultivated chance pairing and unexpected perspectives: lyrical duets accompanied by sonic landscapes. A 17-piece ensemble rigged to 16-channel sound installation played four compositions created specifically for Events and included the brash and titularly-appropriate Open Space with Brass by David Behrman. Dancers moved between three stages, performing snippets of choreography from MCDC’s historic repertory, audience members milled through the hall as if it was an urban space—continually shifting perspectives during the 50-minute performance.

Cunningham made plans for Events prior to his death and conceptualized many activities happening at the same time as to “allow not so much as an evening of dance as the experience of dance.” As if anticipating the kind of public commons created by the mix of dancers, musicians, and audience, Daniel Arsham, a longtime MCDC collaborator, hung abstracted clouds made from hundreds of spheres from the Armory’s balloon shed roof. The result is a chance immersion into the choreographer’s vision.