An Abundance of Merce

Written by Susan Reiter on . Posted in Dance, Posts.

The programming for this Saturday’s Merce Fair—no less than
a dozen hours of overlapping and complementary presentations representing the
vast body of work, and enormous influence, of the late Merce Cunningham—would
no doubt have inspired a beaming smile from the late choreographer. This is the
creative genius, after all, who late in life was presenting ever-more-intricate
events that featured dances taking place on as many as five stages. On
Saturday, this Lincoln Center Festival extravaganza will require eight
different spaces within Frederick P. Rose Hall to encompass the dance and music
performances, classes, films and videos, lectures, panel discussions, art
exhibit, archival exhibition and participatory workshops that will have people
absorbing his seminal ideas and impact from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“The fun part—and
the great challenge—was trying to represent the different disciplines that
Merce touched and impacted,” says Boo Froebel, the Festival’s producer. “That’s
really the point of the whole day: He wasn’t just a titan in modern dance; he
went across disciplines—and this day shows that so beautifully. He inspired
visual artists and musicians and filmmakers, as well as dancers and other

The Festival’s helpful eight-column, color-coded schedule
for Merce Fair might seem daunting at first, and there is definitely a need to
make choices amid the wealth of activity. Some may want to chart a careful plan
of attack in advance; others might prefer to wander through the many spaces and
settle on what strikes their fancy.

While there are scheduled performances by both the MCDC and
the Repertory Understudy Group (a talented four-member junior troupe), there
are open-ended portions of Merce Fair that are available all day. These include
the archival exhibition co-curated by the New York Public Library for the
Performing Arts (where Cunningham’s archives are housed) and the company’s
venerable, indefatigable archivist, David Vaughan. The items selected from the
extensive archives focus on the Cunningham works being performed on Saturday.

Those performances—each taking place twice—will be in the
Rose Theater, the largest performance space in the complex. At 2:45 p.m. and 9
p.m., the company will perform two memorably distinctive mid-period Cunningham
works. Squaregame, from 1976, is an invigorating, playful work in which
the dancers incorporate duffle bags, often in whimsical and surprising ways, on
a stage suggesting an athletic arena. Duets, first performed in 1980, is
an exquisite, overlapping series of dances for six couples that once again
demonstrates how endlessly inventive Cunningham was in fashioning duets. He
himself performed memorably in both these works; his concluding duet
(originally danced with Catherine Kerr) resonated with particular poignancy.

The feisty RUGs (as they are known) will close out the
afternoon session at 5:15 p.m. and be back on stage at 7 p.m., with Inventions
based on Inventions, a masterful, intricately-structured
dance that was one of no less than four works Cunningham choreographed in 1989.
There is also a rare opportunity to watch company class on the Rose Theater
stage at noon, as well as two extensive Musician Concerts of works by composers
closely associated with Cunningham.

Froebel emphasizes that the morning session is particularly
family-friendly. At 10:15 a.m., former company member Patricia Lent, with
assistance from the RUGs, will teach movement from Field Dances to
participants aged 10 and up. That will be followed by a Family Day dance
workshop, and Lent will teach Field Dances to the general public again at 4
p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

If you’d prefer to sit back and listen, there will be Monday
with Merce panels at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., moderated by Nancy Dalva and featuring
former company members Michael Cole, Ellen Cornfield, Neil Greenberg and Gus
Solomons Jr., as well as longtime production manager/lighting designer Aaron Copp.
At 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Rose Theater, Betsy Carpenter of the Walker Art
Center will discuss historic backdrops created for Cunningham works by Jasper
Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and others—with the actual drops shown.

There will also be an open camera room all day. As Froebel
explains, “You can go in and talk about
anything you remember about Merce himself, or taking a class, or seeing his
work for the first time. Those pieces of video will then go into the Cunningham

Clearly, this unique
day—which also offers ongoing films and video screenings—offers an abundance of
Merce, in all his multi-faceted glory. In planning it, Froebel says, “I’m always thinking that we’re leaving
something out—which is inevitable. But what we have in is so extraordinary, and
I think it reflects his body of work across disciplines so well. There’s
something in it for everybody. Even if somebody’s not a Merce aficionado, this
is the best primer in the world.

Merce Fair

July 16, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th St,
212-721-6500; three separate sessions: 10 a.m.–1:30 p.m., 2:15–5:45 p.m.;
6:30–10 p.m., $15 & up.