The American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham was one of the most influential figures in 20th century dance – and beyond. Born one hundred years ago, in April 1919, he worked with his Merce Cunningham Dance Company up until his death aged 90.
The impact of his work cannot be overstated. Not only did he develop a whole new language for contemporary dance, he extended the reach of dance by collaborating with artists in other disciplines, including the composer John Cage (his long term life partner) and painters like Roy Lichtenstein and Bruce Nauman, to mention but a few.
Trevor Carlson is an arts manager and producer, who became Executive Director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and was close to Cunningham for the final 11 years of his life. Together with the choreographer and director Ferran Carvajal and the dramaturg Albert Tola he devised Not a moment too soon, a multidisciplinary one-man show which promised 'to offer an intimate and rare insight into the choreographer’s work and personal life.’
Carlson is a good story-teller and his reminiscences are illustrated by video (Miguel Àngel Raió), moving sets of flimsy white curtains (Max Galenzel), atmospheric lighting (María Domènech), and a discreet urban soundscape (Jaume Manresa).
He started by pointing out four important stages in Merce’s development as a choreographer: his collaborations with John Cage, with whom he worked on separating movement from music; his interest in chance procedures, which allowed him an exploration beyond his previous experiences; his fascination with filmed dance, which opened a completely new perspective on bodies in motion; and his work in developing a specific software for dance.
In his final years, Merce Cunningham was confined to a wheelchair; given a camera, he obsessively filmed his surroundings. Some of his films, including a slow panning of the snow-bound streets of New York, taken from his window, and a persistent but failed attempt to get his cat Blanche to jump on his lap, are shown in Not a Moment Too Soon.
He died on a Sunday in July, having spent part of the morning on his roof terrace absorbing the sun; and his death marked the beginning of the end of his company, as Merce Cunningham didn’t like anybody else choreographing on his dancers, nor did he want it to go on as a museum company.
In the process of telling us those things, Carlson also told us an awful lot about himself. And here’s the thing: he told us more about himself than we really needed, or cared to know; and a lot less about Merce Cunningham than we really, really wanted to know.
We were left with a sense of emptiness, unfulfilled expectation. Not a moment too soon came across primarily as a slickly produced ego-trip for Carlson, loosely pegged to Merce Cunnigham’s centenary, but not really providing new insights into this giant of dance and his influence on 20th century culture.
|What||Not a moment too soon, Barbican Review|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
04 Apr 19 – 06 Apr 19, 19:45 Dur.: 1 hour 10 mins no interval
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican|