Merce Cunningham Inspired Dance Event on Two Floors

United KingdomUnited Kingdom   Selway, Ilhan, Quinta, Rambert Event: Rambert Dance Company, Rambert, London, 28.06.2014 (J.O’D)

Dancers: Luke Ahmet, Miguel Altunaga, Lucy Balfour, Adam Blyde, Carolyn Bolton, Simone Damberg-Würtz, Antonette Dayrit, Antonia Hewitt, Dane Hurst, Vanessa Kang, Mark Kimmett, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Patricia Okenwa, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Kym Sojourna, Pierre Tappon, Stephen Wright

Musicians: Philip Selway, Adem Ilhan, Quinta

Choreography: Merce Cunningham

Staging:Jeannie Steele
Designs: Gerhard Richter
Music: Philip Selway, Adem Ilhan, Quinta


Excerpts from: Septet (1953, Rambert 1987); RainForest (1968, Rambert 2010); Sounddance (1975, Rambert 2012); Fielding Sixes (1980, Rambert 1983); Doubles (1984, Rambert 1990); August Pace (1989, Rambert 1998); Touchbase (created for Rambert 1992); Ground Level Overlay (1995, Rambert 2001); Pond Way (1998, Rambert 2006)


This was an ‘event’ because dance was performed simultaneously on different floors of the Rambert building. Five minutes after the dancers in the Marie Rambert Studio began to move, dancers in the Anya Linden studio on the floor above began to move, too. The audience, seated on the floor or standing around the walls, was invited to alternate between the spaces. In that sense, at least until its closing moments, the Rambert Event was, tantalizingly, as much about dance that you did not see as much as about dance that you did.

Fifty years ago (almost to the day) the American choreographer, Merce Cunningham, presented his first ‘Event’ in Vienna. A former member of his company, Jeannie Steele, yesterday presented the first of the new stagings she has created with the dancers from Rambert. (There will be further performances on the 5th and 12th July.) Excerpts from ten Cunningham works, dating from 1953 to 1998, have been ‘recontextualised’. They are performed to a newly scored soundscape. The focus is on the choreographer’s interest in ‘chance, serendipity and display’.

The Marie Rambert Studio was the more theatrical space. There was room for the audience on only two sides of the dance floor. The bodysuited dancers emerged, as if on a stage, from behind suspended panels of grey, flecked with black and red, which reached from floor to ceiling. Upstairs, in the smaller, day-lit Anya Linden Studio, the panels (this time of grey and green) were suspended above the dancers’ heads. The audience was able to occupy three sides of the room. This focused the attention on the dancers’ carefully executed movement of their bodies (their torsos, legs, arms and feet) rather than on any idea of performance (‘not so much an evening of dances as the experience of dance’ as the choreographer himself, quoted in the programme notes, said of his own ‘Event’). In both places the dancers seemed always to be solitary, inside their own kinesphere, even when they were in a duet or a group. Their very skill, as dancers, made them inaccessible. Merce Cunningham trained with Martha Graham before studying classical ballet. The dancers here are barefoot, but they land in fifth position.

It took several minutes to get used to the idea of leaving dance in one room to watch it in another. It became more natural when you realized that the dancers themselves were alternating, too (by a different staircase or lift). For really it was one dance, performed in two spaces. The drawing to a close was signaled by one dancer, alone in the upper studio, crossing it on the diagonal. There was a great sense of satisfaction, and expectation, as audience, dancers and musicians gathered on the lower floor. The surprisingly large number of dancers (none of whom seemed to have put a foot wrong, on either floor, in the hour that the ‘event’ had lasted) now formed a single group of individuals. It surged in different directions, like a wave, before coming to rest.

John O’Dwyer

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