A year ago, in one of the most memorable performances I’d seen the company give, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed in Battery Park City, just after the choreographer’s passing. The weather—the epitome of summer—was so perfect, it seemed to mock the sadness that hung over the vast audience, emotions still raw from Merce’s absence. As a coda, on July 26, River to River Festival presented We Give Ourselves Away at Every Moment: An EVENT for Merce. Curated/produced by Annie B. Parson and Will Knapp, again in perfect weather, it featured five choreographers’ reflections on Merce’s work. There were no breaks between companies, who performed for relatively brief durations. A musical ensemble sat a stone’s throw away from the square platform; their amplified music accompanied most of the segments.
The program led off with Vicky Schick and Jon Kinzel performing his Drastic Cut and Responsible Ballet (with some citizens’ cheerleading practice going on in the background). As Kinzel lay down and gestured with his hands, Schick sat poised at the edge of the stage (as many others did, for lack of an offstage), watching serenely. When the languidly elegant Schick joined him, she made his pedestrian movement suddenly look dance-y. Susan Marshall’s self-described Quartet with Child was irresistibly sentimental, as the dancers took turns cradling on and offstage an adorable (and well-behaved) baby. Marshall’s knack with laying down a thin but impermeable foundation of drama was effectively deployed here, as was her skill choreographing for small groups.
Lucinda Childs’ company performed four excerpts of work dating from 1976–1993. The minute Caitlin Scranton and Anne Lewis stepped onstage in crisp white pants and gray tees, framed by the cityscape, it struck me how urban Childs’ work is, and has always been. Like a grid of streets and the stoplights that meter traffic, it makes order out of random chaos, and logic from the sometimes reluctant body. The excerpts diagrammed opposing forces, wedges, and circles (imitated by toddlers watching). It felt perfect there and then, and as new as it was 34 years ago.
Faye Driscoll presented a part of 837 Venice Boulevard. It was a solo for Nikki Zialcita, who seems less to perform than to speak in tongues. She showed an absolute lack of inhibition as she snicked through gestures, some meaningful—joyous, lewd, confrontational—and some not. Her primal screams, and the nervous humor throughout, cut through the generally elegiac atmosphere, which resumed as a trio from Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s took the stage in Poem/Arsenale/Excerpt. They assumed poses, carefully arranging themselves in relation to one another, advancing a yard or so each time, and then repeated it in double time.
Jones paid homage to Cunningham by taking the stage, as Merce did through his 80s. After a brief segment with an emphasis on his fearsomely carved torso, he approached his dancers, clustered in a corner, whispered what I presume was along the lines of “are you ready?”, and tossed himself into their arms, the master surrendering himself, and his legacy, to his students.