Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Second Hand and BIPED at BAM

Merce Cunningham Second Hand 1970I finally saw the show I have been waiting for all season – Second Hand (1970) and BIPED (1999) by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Having spent a brief moment working for the organization, I had the enormous opportunity to see many of the works performed on the Legacy Tour – MCDC’s farewell two-year farewell tour. (At one point, I saw Pond Way performed in costume at the Westbeth studio as a tornado swept across NYC.) BAM’s performances marked the third to last stop before the Company disbands and I was happy to have the chance to see these pieces.

Second Hand was an exercise in shapes. The amount of shapes that these dancers were able to create was astounding and punctuated by the rainbow unitards designed by Jasper Johns. The solo by Robert Swinston – originally choreographed for Merce himself – was strong and stunning, opening the piece with a reminder of Merce’s foresight and flowing into a piece that worked with the shapes shifting throughout solos, duets, and group work.

Merce Cunningham BIPED 1999BIPED felt like a celebration of movement (though I saw someone sobbing after the curtain fell). It’s use of motion capture technology projected onto to a scrim in front of the dancers, adds a level of profundity to the work. Suddenly, these large shapes representing human forms, dance across the scrim and then disperse into fibers, accentuating the fleeting moments on stage. BIPED becomes a metaphor for life, illuminating the transitory existence we all share.

And in this case – it really hits home.

It is of course, a sad moment in dance to have the Merce Cunningham Dance Company disband, but it’s also a move to protect the artwork and its integrity. The Merce Cunningham Trust is set in place to preserve the Merce’s life-work and share it with those who are capable of performing and presenting it. In addition to maintaining artistic authority over the work, this will (hopefully) create the potential in the New York arts scene for other dance companies to find capital to create their own work and leave their own mark.

All in all, Merce Cunningham’s legacy will live on for generations.

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