IN CONVERSATION WITH MERCE
October 2, 2021
Merce Cunningham and Mikhail Baryshnikov share a penchant for collaboration, one that even drew them together as optically unlikely partners, beginning with Baryshnikov adding Cunningham to American Ballet Theatre’s repertory. At Baryshnikov Arts Center, there is a studio named for Cunningham and John Cage, wherein BAC Digital’s In Conversation with Merce was filmed. Liz Gerring and Kyle Abraham take excerpts of Cunningham’s 1972 Landrover as a prompt for their own physical musing on the original work’s fixation on the ways living beings travel in space.
Staged by Jamie Scott, Alvin Ailey company dancers Chalvar Monteiro and Jacquelin Harris brave locomotive obstacles between partnering anyone who has lived through the past two years might describe as “socially distant.” Contact consists of non-hugs – embraces kept at arms’ lengths, promenades in which Harris is fully self-sufficient in her off-kilter orientations with merely gestural support from Monteiro, who focuses more on harmonizing his body with hers in interlocking revolving shapes. That is until Monteiro hoists Harris upside down onto his back at an incline. Harris makes up for lost time by slithering slowly down Monteiro’s spine and hamstring until the two lie, prone, heads yearning for elsewhere.
Liz Gerring’s Dialogue feels more like a report. Landrover’s classical structure of duets flanked by alternating solos is kept for Mariah Anton and Cemiyon Barber, who impersonate Cunningham within Gerring’s vocabulary that draws largely from the fitness industry. A lot of lunges, planks, and chair poses are distorted with spinal adjustments from running starts. There is connection, though with considerably less relation. If Cunningham made the “socially distant” work, Gerring made the “together while apart” dance, Gerring focusing on destinations, counter to Cunningham’s adherence to journey.
Kyle Abraham takes a completely left-field approach, exploring softness, release, and loosely fitting garments (by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung) within what remains an undeniably Cunningham-ian time/space. Donovan Reed and Claude Johnson achieve a male-on-male tenderness rarely, if ever seen in Cunningham’s oeuvre. Where Cunningham engineers independence in partnering, Abraham designs coordinations impossible to execute without an other half. Within this, glimmers of Merce surface in unexpected gestural outbursts that punctuate Abraham’s waves of fluid continuity.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews