March 11, 2015
Considering the Cunningham aesthetic, it seems implicit that next steps involve disseminating the disbanded company’s material to foreign groups. Like a body replacing its cells, such processes begin well within the original company when members cycle through; core identity, however, remains. Compagnie CNDC d’Angers has the privilege to have such a specimen, Merce’s assistant of seventeen years, Robert Swinston to assemble Event, a shuffling of eleven pieces spanning thirty-five years, at the Joyce Theater. Rather than flipping a coin, Swinston seems to have handpicked his materials for a conceptual unity all the harder to find when pulling from disparate sources. Within the wafting perimeter of Jackie Matisse’s vibrantly spotted banners, and the surprising melodiousness of John King’s strings and Gelsey Bell’s voice, cross-generational harmonies support integrated approaches to aleatory work.
Event is introduced academically, eschewing intellectualism. Phrases play out utterly “en croix.” Classroom atmosphere distorts when one, as a plank, is rapidly tossed like a cubic pancake on all four sides. A double duet has one couple’s torsos bending sagittally with its coupés and tendus; the other keeps coronal. Academicism is instantaneous. You see your choices. The cognitive leap is actually choosing - focused ideas, carefully exposed. To begin, all eight dancers run individually to fourth positions. The uneven pacing, scattered spacing, and distribution of facings inhibit realization until the last moment that all that’s happened was a straight diagonal line. The copious immediacies of the academic are made organic by singular, circuitous intellect.
Swinston rarely allows a maverick dancer. Soloists are actively subverted as focal points. One treads in back as the company cavorts up front. In unison, one will break, walk to a new space, and resume until the form transposes. When a soloist actually executes non-pedestrian movement, others phase through space, creating incidental duets and trios that expand possibilities of distance relationships required to achieve ensemble status. The inherent separateness of the materials ties them ever more intimately as associative composites.
The duets share consensual contention – winding struggle to achieve momentary reprieves from gravity. Three encounters outline three maneuvers: elbows hinging elbows, armpits clamping armpits, hands slipping shoulders. Limiting one’s ability to support, partnering behaves as a solo spanning two bodies. Like the Rose Adagio, exchanges of seemingly impossible movements transpire with and without assistance. In tilted pirouettes and jumps that spring from nowhere, the partner is just as dependent on the movement to be moved at all. It is an anarchy most peaceful; each body requires another.
Reconciling immediate repetitions with elliptical digressions is their packaging into rondos. A circle leans away from its grips, falls, breaks into counterpoint, and returns with new memories to begin again. This ordering of sameness and newness allows us to see the same material differently than if we were to see it looped, recapitulated, or through-composed. As movement transforms when left alone or supported by a partner, entire sequences are colored by how near or far another veers before returning. Since no soloist is ever fully autonomous from the group at large, sequences are validated by how they weave through other sequences. In performers, materials, and forms, Robert Swinston’s latest event uncovers deep interconnectedness in Cunningham’s oeuvre – disciplined entropy.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews