An international group of 25 dancers of varying ages, provenances and familiarity with Cunningham’s canon, took the the stage at the Barbican to perform 100 solos from Cunningham works spanning six decades.
In doing so, they offered a potent illustration of Merce Cunningham’s profound impact on 20th-century dance and beyond.
Merce Cunningham concentrated on movement; and whereas ballet and contemporary Martha Graham technique are visible in his work, he took everything a step further, discarding music as a structural base to which dancers dance, and concentrating on the pure movement of bodies.
Accordingly, the live soundscape that accompanied the Barbican performance was concrete music, including scratchy sounds of objects, blended with strings and piano, none of which offered the dancers a rhythmic anchor, nor was it meant to.
The dancers, clad in simple brightly coloured unitards, performed in front of a backcloth animated with projections of random objects and physics diagrams and equations. They always danced solo, but at times various solos coexisted on stage; and although they rarely connected, their intersection cast new light on each other’s work.
Night of 100 Solos, Hannah Kidd, Siobhan Davies, Billy Trevitt. Photo: Stephen Wright
They made it look easy, and yet Cunningham’s work is fiendishly difficult: long, sustained balances, peculiar rhythms, unexpected combinations, expressionless faces, all communication made exclusively by bodies moving in space.
This is not to say, however, that there’s isn’t lightness and wit in his choreography. There is: and in one telling example, Jonathan Goddard in dungarees and black tie performed a solo deliberately pointing to 50s and 60s Broadway musicals, with its sideways kicks and shuffles.
The cast brought a unique opportunity to see diverse performers engaged in the same pursuit: be it the veteran Siobhan Davies, herself a noted choreographer owning the stage, as well she might; or the original BalletBoyz, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, returning to performance after many, many years away and reprising their extraordinary connection by performing the same solo in tandem.
The Royal Ballet’s first artist Joseph Sissens, part of a contingent of three that included principal Francesca Hayward and first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell, brought power, breathtaking precision and balletic grace to his solos.
Night of 100 Solos, Joseph Sissens. Photo: Stephen Wright
Luke Ahmet, lately of Rambert, leapt across the stage like a swift red flame; Harry Alexander and Benjamin Warbis put to good use their regular work with choreographer Michael Clark, whose style bears more than a little influence of Merce Cunningham, with their clean lines and meticulous definition.
It’s impossible to mention all 25 dancers, but that should not be read as dismissing their work; on the contrary, one of the many strengths of Night of 100 Solos was the high level achieved by all performers and their remarkable immersion in the choreographer’s style.
One senses that, laconic as he is reputed to have been, Merce Cunningham would have thoroughly approved…
NOTE: The videos of the performances will remain on Merce Cunnningham's website for three months
|What||Night of 100 Solos, Merce Cunningham review|
|Where||Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
On 16 Apr 19, 19:45 Dur.: 1 hour 15 mins no interval
|Price||£16.50 + booking fee (concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican website|