Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Disappearing Artist



[Written during a Contemplative Dance Practice retreat.]

The practices we are doing are about getting out of the way of what wants to arise. All those composers who said “it came through me, I received it, hearing it all” were talking about that. It’s a completely different model than the sonar-like soundings of an artist looking for confirmation.

To perform at all, there has to be some pleasure in being seen. In some cases it’s a need, the way one gets validation, or feels self-worth. What a minefield!

The audience could never substitute for what must be an internal job—understanding one’s worth on a deep level, having conviction that one belongs on this earth irrespective of applause or accomplishment. 

Addressing those needs in a saner way leaves room for truer and riskier art adventures. They are liberated then from fulfilling a role they should never have been expected to fill.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Teaching in Israel

At Shabbat Contact. Photo: Ed Shamis

From the moment I touched down in Tel Aviv, my interactions with people were intense, honest, probing and warm. To be included in the Israeli Contact Festival was both a surprise and a challenge. Having been away from it a long time, I considered what my relationship to contact improvisation is now, what it offers and what I have to offer people whose dancing practice is deeply felt and not so preoccupied with aesthetics. I was eager to continue developing my teaching of Contemplative Dance Practice.  What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the classes.


At "The Greenhouse," Day One - FEET ON THE GROUND

I am not accustomed to gyms with big numbers of dancers. And cold gyms, at that. The basketball players prefer the windows OPEN, so we come in to a cold floor, cold air…but eventually warm ourselves.

I explain that doing and re-doing is part of dancing. That just as bread is made from a recipe that might have been used on this very spot in Galilee 4,000 years ago, but still tastes fresh when you make it, so a dance task is new each time. Or that it is like combing the hair. We comb, and recomb. And getting different perspectives on one issue in dancing ultimately gives us a fuller picture. In the way that a collection of blind men’s descriptions of an elephant—one talks of a rough trunk, another of smooth tusk, etc.—different ways of considering the same dance issue fills out the picture.

We begin with a foot massage, in pairs. Pressing into the spaces between the bones. Pressing on the bones and releasing. It stimulates and opens so we can “get our feet on the ground” and “plant ourselves.” Building from the ground up means yielding to the floor. Opening the feet. 

We explore, bringing sensation to each foot as it is newly massaged. Then letting the exploration of the feet move the full body, a sweep of the foot engaging all the joints of the legs, the spine as it twists, the arms as they bear weight. We move into the middle level to warm ourselves, pushing against floor to rise in space. 

Making a circle around the outer edge of the room, we practice the classic peripheral vision exercise learned from Steve* and then three Qi gong exercises that sink and rise along with the breathing. I learned these from Eva K and practice them myself often. They center and create a good sense of the whole body, balanced. 

Then, how to walk? If we consider taking a step, if we take the first step toward taking a step, what happens? We walk slowly, and faster, going through the middle. I first experienced this with a big group  on tour with TBDC, with Stephen or someone else teaching. The lively zipping through others, using the hands to help navigate, is fun! If you move swiftly, there’s lots of sensory input, and you see the faces of the full group flash by. It’s a chance to connect with everyone.


We slow to do walking meditation, traditional style. The circle is huge. And someone points out that it’s hard to know if one’s own movement speeding up or slowing will affect the tempo of the whole.
A moment of indecision—with half an hour left shall I fill it full, or allow more space? The group giggles as I waiver and then choose to ask them to add an element: the slow spiraling into and out of the floor. Becoming more fluid, it’s about yielding into the floor in the same way that the feet yield. 

Then I ask them to dance for each other, using the elements of foot finding sensation, presence from the walking meditation and spiraling into and out of floor. Dance 8 minutes, talk 4 about what was experienced and seen.

Then a final circle with energy gathering from Qi Gong that I learned this year from Jano.

Day Two - HANDS and FEET TO HEAD

We began with a hand massage that echoed the foot massage of the day before. I taught this form, which was the Do-In I learned in France in the 80s, and then added the first of the wrist stretches I learned from Steve. Warming the hands before taking weight on them is helpful, feels good. 

We worked then with tipping to feel yielding and the beginnings of pushing. Playing between those two on all levels brings about mermaid movement, amphibian and reptile action.
With hands touching, we had weight-sharing pushing duets.

With partners we used a hand on the mover’s head to provide pressure. As they yielded, the partner did too, as they pushed the partner gave pressure. This connects feet to head very strongly.
The dancing became solo dancing, witnessed and then spoken about.

Introducing Contemplative Dance Practice in a short amount of time allowed touching on the framework and introducing sitting meditation. It became clear that many people have not much frame of reference for the Open Space part of the practice. Some haven’t practiced ways of relating in groups beyond contact. So I am inspired in the next class to give them tools to play with.

Day 3 - FROM CENTER OUTWARDS

This class was really settled and felt as though everyone there had “clicked in” to the work. We started with some Qi Gong, standing. Arching and twisting the back in every direction and gathering the energy in between. The bird-like lung-large intestine meridians action with exhale fold, inhale lengthen into a starfish shape came next. We could rise a little, letting the heels lift off the floor. So we were moving from into center, folding, and out in all directions, reaching and extending.  

The next time was spent on a trio hands-on exercise for head, tail and all the limbs where we give a slight direction to head and tail first, allowing them to lengthen away from each other. It is so hard to communicate how delicate the touch wants to be for this. I talk about how a helium balloon will bound away if you give it too much oomph. Also that it’s more just a “thought” than a touch.  Then we do shoulders, pressing into front and back, each person on one side, so that the person’s shoulder blades widen away from each other. Finding space between the bones again. Then catching the energy of the arm by draping it, drawing outward and testing the weight of it, shaking a little at the fingertips. Then legs, pressing into buttocks and hip  folds and then moving the meat of the legs around the bones, tracing down the center front and back and finally grounding the feet again along toes and heels. 

Next: Duos with one giving these kinds of directions with the hands as the other dances, thinking about center and edge, moving between deep fold and big expansion.  And talking about it in between. And finally group dancing where you could give hands on to others during the dance.

Break. Rock garden. Rocks of three heights – sitting ,standing, lying down. Placement, direction, feeling the whole space. We start with three people entering one by one. And  then do the same, but add three with the direction to “make it more of whatever it is.” Finally we go to half the group at once, so  big numbers of dancers fill the space, and then, after witnessing their own configuration, change, rearranging in a new way, finding out how to “make it more of whatever it is.” You can really feel them sensing and looking and navigating. The space is awake!

Later as Ariye and I talk about this and the experience of the following Contemplative Dance Practice I am reminded that these simple practices are really lenses for seeing the workings of mind and body. That they are frames, much the way a Japanese lacquer table, black and perfectly shiny, will reveal the first tiny speck of dust.  

People seem more comfortable with the sitting meditation. It’s shorter. And possibly a few who had a really hard time with it didn’t return. The sense of the group is great. Expansive. Clear. And the explorations during Open Space do reflect the double kind of awareness we’ve been pointing to—feeling one’s own body fully and also relating to the wider space and all that’s happening in it.  

Evening -SHOWING
We created a choreography by consensus in response to the invitation to show something from the Intensive. People were interested in doing walking meditation and allowing others to join in. We hit on a sandwich structure with our group walking, then feathering out into the group rock garden practice, changing configurations three times, then dissolving back out into walking, at which point watchers were in invited in. This was announced before we began. And what happened was astonishing. It was as though the whole village of the Greenhouse walked along with us. Lior in her wheelchair, a toddler behind her Mom, and so many of the dancers, so densely packed together that we could barely step forward. This didn’t seem to be a problem for people. They appreciated how slowed down it became. Then gong. End.

Day Four - PRECISION AND LETTING GO

Considering the idea that you focus on something, that you make it your object of meditation, and then you widen out, let it dissolve, forget it and just allow whatever is there to be. The group talked at the beginning about their questions and wishes.  Some wondered about incorporating the organs (my reply – in another series of classes), several commented on experiences in meditation. This combined with the many comments I heard at the workshop’s end gave me the feeling that the Intensive became a place for people to work through their own stuff, whether digesting and putting to use earlier work they had done or just making room for feeling and being. 

We began with a twenty minute evolution roll, traveling from one end of the gym to the other passing through yielding, navel radiation, pushing and reaching. I loved this: it reminded me of an image I had in a natural history book as a child. The tadpole swimming, then sprouting its legs, slipping up onto land, crawling and eventually hopping away. Some folks didn’t make it to homo sapien…we let them come to standing slowly.

Repeat of the lung-large intestine flying meridian which opens out all of space. Then we repeated Eva’s 3 Qi Gong pliĆ© and rise exercises

Working next in partners, one would go for a walk and the other would place him/herself in relationship, playing with distance and direction. Switch. This was “reading.” Then we did reading timing, the song of the partner’s movement, and being with it, precisely. Finally we combined duos to make quartets and three people followed one, reading timing and secondarily playing with space. This is a brand new exercise for me, and made for some wonderful ensemble work. 

Break. Contemplative Movement Practice with a longer amount of time for Open Space—30 minutes. The group worked well, but some were frustrated, not remembering the possibility we had laid out to do round robin-type tagging (the number limit for being in the space was 10, then I upped it to 15. With 30 dancers that involved some patience. 

Some intense energy arose, and along with that the question of what does and doesn’t belong within the container of the practice. I realized later that peoples’ difficulty with this particular aggressive moment was that the person came into others’ space. Not with touch, but with a clearly violent energy. It was rattling. It makes me think about discussing working with energy in the future. We did talk about not solidifying something, not deciding “this is what I am doing” and then holding on to it. That the practice involves allowing whatever we have to arise, dwell and cease.

In Tel Aviv, Class One – PARALLEL LEGS, WALKING AND “IT”

Feet on the wall. I drew the anatomy of the leg bones, and described their function. This classic is always a revelation or a reminder. From the extended finish, with feet against the wall and heels tucked into the corner, we came to a stand gradually. Imagining each shift required in going from floor to upright, then doing them. Pausing to feel the new relationship of each cell to gravity. In standing we imagined taking a step. Then did, in stages. Slid into walking meditation. 

Then we let it go to do a walking warm up. And walking with a partner, changing often.
After a break we worked with finding an essential “it,” starting from open space and being attentive to what arises like a faint radio station that we tune into. We talked about arising , dwelling and ceasing and in particular how something ends. Then we transformed that practice of identifying and staying with an “it” into 10-9-8 practice. Everyone together, then in two groups, talking about what you saw your partner do.

Then Contemplative Dance Practice.

Day Two – ROCKING AND ROLLING

We thought about people’s questions regarding meditation and dance, and I suggested that they stay with the questions, and see what their research question might be if they don’t already have one. Read Suzuki Roshi on controlling one’s cow by giving it a big meadow. 

I spent quite a while drawing the head, ribcage and pelvis from above, and from the front, looking especially at their roundness and the places where there is joint movement. We did hands on rocking, on a supine partner, starting with the hips, reaching across and lifting so that gravity would allow the partner to rock back down. Path was hips to shoulder, and lifting from behind the shoulder. Then down the legs, moving the meat on the bones. Then lifting head from underneath just taking the weight, then turning. Shoulders and arms rolling finished it, with a final sweep—head, arms, legs. 

Taking that relaxed body, rocking into rolling. Rock, pause, feel each new stopping place and how the body settles into it, folding and unfolding arms and legs to create open surfaces.
Solo rolling of head, ribcage and pelvis in all levels, using push of hands to arise from watery sea creature to amphibian, to all fours, and finally to homo sapien. With Meg’s music.

Duets reading timing with one leading. Adding walking and running to make it simpler.
Trios reading space with one leader.
Then trios using both of the above, but “forgetting,” not controlling and allowing all that had happened so far to be present. This was really fun. Wonderful connections between dancers.
Pause. 

Walking meditation. Then walking meditation with entering the circle to find and “it” and leaving when it’s complete. A new experiment.

Contemplative Dance Practice, this time 20 minutes to sit and 30 for Open Space.

FINAL DAY

We started with the standing hands on similar last week, but lifting the leg and circling the knee, then replacing it. We traced as partners began to move, and after both people had experienced hands on, made it into duets with tracing

Then standing lung meridian action (the bird-like one) followed by Eva’s 3 Qi Gong exercises, all in the service of unifying the down and the expanded out and upward. 

Walking meditation in 3 parts – 5 minutes each first plain, next going in and out, and finally with only one time entering.

We took a long (“Israeli time”) lunch and afterward began by looking at Trisha’s Early Works DVD, noting how  the relationship to weight and tilt was connected to the beginnings of contact. That her work and contact arose in a parallel way, from the same roots. 

Then the transformations practice. I hadn’t realized how the heart of that is repetition. And how shifts are an important part of it. Perhaps important to develop the thinking about this.

Finally, we did 20 minutes of sitting, 10 of warm-up and  30 minutes Open Space in CDP. I realized watching that this practice completely eliminates the “what is happening now?” bardo of repeating something after the juice has left it or not knowing where to be in a transitional moment, because each moment is the thing that it is.
~~~

* Steve is Steve Paxton. I referred to all colleagues/teachers by first name in these notes. In addition to Steve, they are: Eva Karczag, Stephen Petronio and Jano Cohen. Eva and I worked together to develop our understanding of Shizuto Masunaga's  Meridians stretches, referred to here. Contemplative Dance Practice I learned from Barbara Dilley. There are references to  concepts from Body-Mind Centering as originated by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and to practices from Alexander technique which I studied with Lydia Yohay, Jano and several others.  


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Masters at Work - Voloshky/Morris at Bryn Mawr



I spent two afternoons in the darkened theater at Bryn Mawr considering what the difference is between a competent or even great artist and a brilliant one and why some traditional folkloric music and dance is moving to me on a level more primal than anything the post-moderns could ever serve up. Being the daughter of a square and folk dance caller who was thrown into the maelstrom of dancing grownups from a very young age certainly has a lot to do with it. But I don't think you need that kind of  connection to feel this dancing in the soul-stirring way that I do.  

In creating a new dance for Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, Mark Morris looked very closely at the regional dances the group performed for him. He absorbed their movement language, making use of distinctive moves. But more importantly, their ethos – of a community of dancers, portraying moments in the lives of their village, their ‘tribe’—is one Morris has been incorporating in his own dances all along. He has credited his early Balkan dancing as being formative, and not only for the experience of repeating circles and lines and rhythmic patterns. The unity of the group, their social exuberance, factored strongly. 

Our age can be one of virtual more than physical connection.  So to see dancers and musicians cooperate so fully in representing a vision of human togetherness that is at once geographically specific and  completely recognizable is a reminder of where we came from; the ur-past we share. Hearts are full; hearts are broken. Young men display their prowess, and women theirs—fiddling as if on fire, and singing in tones that will pierce any reserve. There are reasons to shout and stamp and swirl and run. It’s the full catastrophe of human experience in dance, instrumental music and song. 

The spatial patterns and tricky steps in the traditional works are something Morris understands and makes full use of. But where the Ukrainian dances are comparatively clean and direct, his new Carnival, set to Saint-Saens, has rounded edges and more sly humor. His themes recur in a satisfying way. A full lyricism that sustains itself by breathing the music for sustenance is his hallmark. And with the Ukrainians, it reaches full flowering in a new way.  

Watching Morris rehearse his dance with both dancers and musicians is to see an artist move a performance from wonderful to sublime. He teases out voices, he insists on exact angles and changes arcs of emphasis. It’s a god-in-the-details thing, and the details he drives for, like dancers adding one movement beat on to the very end of a dance after the musicians finish, are the flourishes and distinctions that make the whole gleam. 

The two halves of this show, one traditional but choreographed by a now-89 year old Ukrainian master, Anatoly Kryvochyzha, and one choreographed by what Alastair Macaulay called one of the “foremost living choreographers” in last Sunday’s New York Times act as a conversation across geography and time. For Voloshky to dance something contemporary requires Morris to look to the past. It offers us a chance hear the echo of their and our histories in the ever-so-ecstatic present.


Show info here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Remy=Love

Remy Charlip spoke directly to the child in us. Tenderness and joy was the message.

Somewhere in high school I discovered his books. Maybe it was because of his affiliation with the Cunningham Company and teaching at Sarah Lawrence College (I had friends who studied Creative Dramatics with him). The books felt intoxicating; a liberation for mind and heart. In Thirteen he gave us hypertext before it had been invented. On each page there’s one drawing from each of thirteen visual stories that progress through the book. You can regard one page, you can follow one story start to finish (the falling leaf, the sinking ship), you can linger on the detail and luminosity of his water colors. What in the line and rendering of recognizable things made them so magical? 

I often think about the relationship of ‘what’ to ‘how’ in performance. Materials are one thing, the way they are enacted another. The latter determines how we read the materials. I have the idea that the state of mind of the person doing the thing translates into how we experience it. A person with a desire to offer us the richness of the world around us, and the knowledge of our own preciousness somehow translates that into line and color and sequence. Or dances. We feel it.

The drawings from Remy’s Air Mail Dances provide a visual record of sequences he asked dancers to create, full of loopy, delicious interactions. Two or more people twine and twirl, curving buoyantly, joyfully.  One version of a dance like this was shot on video from above with dancers on a bed, sheets and all. 

It was in Remy’s work that I first saw Eva Karczag. He revealed the exquisite animal she is through a device allowing us to observe her body mechanics: she crawled across the upstage of the old Dance Theater Workshop with rubber balls beneath each of her hands and feet. To progress forward, she kicked or rolled a ball forward and placed hand or foot down to stop it, a foot or so ahead each time.  Funny. Slow. Elegant. 

That was Remy. He was a guest teacher in the Netherlands where I got to know him beyond page and stage. That was where I sensed a darker side too. While I can’t swear it’s so, my sense is of him is as a wounded healer. He venerated the body and became a transformative teacher of Alexander technique. He venerated creativity and creation.

Thank you, Remy. You remain here with us, encouraging our wilder flights of imagination, our reveling in our senses and our care for each other.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fort Blossom's Peaceable Kingdom


Photo: Maria Anguera de Sojo

As someone who has been around at the birth of landmark dance – contact improvisation, Trisha Brown classics – I know the feeling that some works are paradigm-shifting. What exactly makes them so is hard to pinpoint until time has elapsed. John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012) belongs in that camp. Right now I think it’s because Jasperse has crafted a work that’s exquisite but tough, and formalism and felt humanity become unlikely but well-suited bedfellows.

Fort Blossom’s world begins as one of contrasts butting up against one another: the stage floor is half black/half beige, its two women are clothed and two men naked, its movement is hinged and robotic or full of a testing-out kind of exploration. By the time it concludes, after two long duets, one for the women, one for the men, and a final extended section for them all, distinctions co-exist peaceably and a kind of euphoric settledness has descended.

In its opening image, Ben Asriel inchworms prone across the stage, buttocks rising and pressing forward, as Lindsay Clark and Erika Hand, in tomato-colored A-line frocks, perform a unison duet. It’s full of sudden drops and architectural placements of their limbs in curious relationships to the squarish orange plastic bubbles each dons and wears like a goofy backpack. Ryoji Ikeda’s pulsing electronica with throbbing low tones and high pitched bleeps augments the futuristic feel. These women are on display, as plastic people, with perfect make-up, hair just so, hinging at the hips to peek-a-boo at the audience through their own legs while their red panties show, or walking slowly upstage on tip toe. They are objects worthy of admiration and perplexing, all at once. Their building and rebuilding of beautiful shapes, like so many block towers, satisfies.

Meantime Burr Johnson has found his way downstage, and lies atop Asriel, placing a clear plastic inflatable between them. As it deflates, Johnson’s hips grind and thrust. Seeing these men’s buttocks, genitals, squish onto each other, and later, their feet lifting each other’s scrotums, is far from dance as I conventionally think of it. Yet the slow, felt deliberateness of their action is riveting. The men are lithe and gorgeous, each muscle defined as in a textbook, their assholes, and all else, presented matter-of-factly, but definitely, in our face.

The men’s duet of Fort Blossom moves through phases from clinical and dispassionate to erotically charged, and takes its time to evolve and deepen, in the way that lovers might take a full afternoon exploring each other’s bodies. In complete silence its dynamics shift from slow and careful to more jagged or spasmodic.

If the first part of Fort Blossom seems to establish a never-the-twain-shall meet world, the second part erases those borders to find a place where the men and women settle into a mutual ‘creature-ness.’ They play, childlike, to Japanese samba, thwacking each other with their bubbles, falling, kerplunk, onto them or tossing them, spinning. That euphoria fades, like air seeping out of a balloon. The men then partner the women and all join in a long sweep of an upright phrase that’s continually tumbling into new curving pathways, like a twisty mountain road. Often hooking into momentary mirrorings, they slip along, and then brake, tumbling floor-ward at one moment, taking time for an ever-so-slow leg circle that eeks into reverse at another. With Ikeda’s elegiac harmonies, the effect is breathtaking.

At each step of the way, Fort Blossom seems to ask “How might we do this together?” Finding pleasure, experiencing difference and edge, parallel play, mutuality, and synergy: All these aspects of how humans are in each other’s company are rendered with aching directness. And counter to its seeming dystopian beginnings, Fort Blossom concludes with good news: our interchanges have value and tenderness and despite their challenges, serve us.

Dance, with bodies as its medium rather than paint or notes, is very directly about human beings even when it purports to be about space and shape. Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012) is a study in human difference and complementarity. Its four dancers butt against, play off, ignore, and explore each other and ultimately settle into an easy co-existence, richer for each other’s presence. As a model of behavior, it’s hopeful. And the craft that went into shaping its often-changing and mysteriously moving atmosphere is prodigious.

Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012), John Jasperse Company, Bryn Mawr College, February 24-26, 2012. No further performances.

Writer’s note: I Coordinate the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series which presented this production.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And Your Meaning...

“But while the dancing was high quality, it was difficult to discern much meaning out of the piece.”

Is it reasonable for a dance critic to make a statement like this? In my view, writing in the era before Judson, let alone Cunningham, perhaps yes. But the assumption that likely underlies the statement−that dance is supposed to “mean” something that the choreographer presents in a way you can parse and give language to−is off-base today.

The piece in question is John Jasperse’s Canyon. After reading the full review of which this one statement is a part, I penned the following:

“I can’t tell you why I trusted choreographer John Jasperse when he placed the audience on air mattresses supine to look up at dancers doing risky weight-sharing partnering directly over us in Prone (2005). Likewise the “meaning” of Canyon, like so many messages that arise in dreams, I accept as a given without needing to know precisely what it is. Audiences and critics looking at dance today are invited to stay open for signals, to allow layers of imagery to build in our memory like so much visual poetry. That challenge evokes the excitement of a worthy mystery, a whodunit one hasn’t yet unraveled, but may well. And however it works out, the pleasure of dwelling in the rich world of signals can be, in itself, plenty.”

Jasperse is wonderfully articulate on this issue in a recent profile.

And then, wanting to share some of the meaning I gleaned in the work, I did something I haven’t ever done before in the seven years I’ve been writing about dance in Philadelphia: sent the newspaper an unsolicited review of something that a reviewer already covered. To be clear, I don’t think the work is without areas that need tightening or clarifying. But in 200 words what seemed most vital was to offer a way IN. My review wasn’t used, so here it is:

Canyon. John Jasperse’s newest work vacillates between the time when dancers, full-bodied and capable, make their bold marks on space, and the time when they stop. Its six fine dancers leap, swirl and whoosh across the stage in satisfying waves of changing groupings, or crash and dive, later giving way to times when their bodies are less ready for deployment. They crumple, they sag, or pensively await further instructions. The implied cycles – rehearse and rest, exert and surrender to exhaustion– are reminiscent of the arc of a dancer’s day, or life. In Canyon intimacy, doubt, camaraderie, and tenderness have their place too. And then, what are the messages coming from a deep interior or a faraway power that cause the dancers to pause, looking to the distance, or listening internally?

Jasperse often messes with conventions of staging and here turns the white dance floor askew in the curtainless cavern of the space. Tony Orrico’s design includes a white cube on wheels, creaky and scuttling, that decorates the floor, or walls, with zig-zags of fluorescent green tape, like the trail of a modernist snail.

Along with surges in light, Hahn Rowe’s magisterial score evokes a grand, sometimes thunderous existential question mark. And then it’s back to simple scratchings and settled tones. So it goes. The big moments and the small ones. The grand dance and the inexorable move toward stillness.

FIN

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Fair for Merce



Great artists generate devoted communities. On line waiting for the elevators to Lincoln Center's Rose Theater in July, former dancers with the Cunningham Company were overheard comparing notes on who and what they’d seen earlier in the day - so and so from one era, that one from a later time.

Rather than casting many glances back, my experience of the evening segment of the day-long Merce Fair was about looking and hearing anew. Perhaps knowing that there will be no more Cunningham choreography, one is automatically drawn deeper into what there is, and that opens the mind.

It was on film that I first heard Merce explain his understanding of how music, dance and decor functioned for him in contemporary performance. As with a streetscape where one witnesses a bird in flight while hearing the scream of a firetruck, the elements cohere through their simultaneity and our processing. Whatever we make of the interrelationship is what we make of it. So it was ideal to have the music associated with Merce’s work performed in the Allen Theater with a massive window wall gazing out on a vibrant slice of Central Park South.

And the revelations in that music! As a very young dancer I was put off by these male composers’ scratching and unlovely sonic contributions from the pit. Here, it became fascinating to hear one distinct sound at a time played on a succession of percussion instruments in Cage’s “One,”and spellbinding to try to parse Alvin Luciers’ score for piano and hovering theramin-like doppelganger. And magic - a man at a computer whooshing his hands mysteriously behind a laptop’s screen to produce whorling, dense and dramatic flights of sounds.

My sometime perception of “coldness” in the work was utterly dispelled in Duets and Squaregame, the dances offered by the company. How interesting that Robert Swinston, the company's Director of Choreography, chose to revisit works from one narrow band of time - late 1970’s and 1980 - that are structurally exquisite, and with less seeming randomness than many.

Squaregame takes place on a demarcated white square, dancers temporarily deposited at its far corners, watching in formal groups, then joining in unison ventures.

Rashaun Mitchell, at the work’s beginning and end displays a perplexingly deep sensuality. How can it be? While Merce’s clarity and exactitude are there in spades, so are a fleshy fluidity and thoughtfulness. Cunningham himself seemed to dance with the curiosity of someone to whom the dance was happening, as though he were the subject on which the experiment of this dance were being conducted. Mitchell dances as though the movement were his voice; his wobbly knees or big reaches, without any artifice or extraneous additions, conveying a physical vulnerability or spatial interest.

I’ve heard people say that Mitchell can “channel” Merce. What I see is the channeling of Merce’s authority, and one-pointedness. But how the movement sits on his more substantial frame is different altogether - more rounded, more tender.

Duets plays a trick of continuity. With its cascade of pairings performing distinct tasks, one all hyperdrive lockstep dashes, another a duet without touching, we wonder which of the many pairs might be carrying a through line. But the center continually shifts, as though a spotlight is scanning for the heart of the matter. All the pairs are the heart as we see at the end, when in a stunningly dense minute of finale, every duet mobilizes, pauses for a settled moment, before the density kicks back in and the lights switch out.

That black out ending, used in both works, serves as a reminder that a flow can be turned off, like a faucet. It’s turned off when our proverbial glass is quite satisfyingly full, but just before any hint of overflow.

Earlier, the Fair had animated multiple contiguous spaces with diverse events.The group of attendees learning Field Dances threw themselves into their task, delighted with the open-endedness, through Merce’s structure, of making their own choices. A girl - not more than 8 - flitted among the big folks, tipping sideways facing them, placing hands on their shoulders.

Passersby happened on the floating Mylar Warhol pillows, tossing them back skyward..

The Archive represented a carefully winnowed selection from a vast collection of books, papers and photographs. Handsome hanging panels with photos and text offered both a crash course in Merce and collaborators ,and new information for those already familiar.

The film illustrating the process of creating the “Dancer 1 2 3” drawings was screened alongside the drawings themselves. With Merce revisiting a Cagean concept twenty years after Cage himself worked with it, what’s fascinating is to see how he interacts with the dancers - how he offers refining instructions, how his seeing the results generates something new on the spot.

At the Merce Fair, we were given the fitting option of choreographing our own event, wandering in and out of film screenings, or music performances, or learning a dance, or reading, looking, conversing with friends, until finally enjoying a come-together moment watching the culminating performance. It was a party Merce would have thoroughly enjoyed.

For a series of photos, visit here.