Merce's Power to Move

March 22, 2017

For a long time, I found that the elegant, cerebral works of Merce Cunningham left me a bit cold. Cunningham’s studies of dance as it exists independently from music, a concept he explored with composer and partner John Cage, was—is—revolutionary. The resulting collages of sound and movement, often paired at random, are indisputable masterpieces. But while I could appreciate them, I couldn’t enjoy them. I’ve always needed dance that comes from music, that only lives because of music, that needs music.

Last night, that changed. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which will dissolve in a few weeks, is in the middle of its final run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of its longtime homes. Maybe it was that uniquely poignant context that, as I watched the dancers navigate the peaks and valleys of Cunningham’s BIPED, made me cry. Maybe it  was the strangely poetic projections of larger-than-life “dancers,” often abstracted to a constellation of points, that framed the performers. Maybe it was Gavin Bryars’ hypnotic, melancholic score, which made the whole work feel like an elegy. Or maybe it’s just taken me this long to “get” Merce. I’m so glad I finally did.