The friend who accompanied me, under some duress, to the first of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's two final North Carolina performances — ever—grasped my arm at the concert's end. Almost feverishly, she said: "You have to tell your readers they are crazy if they don't come tomorrow night!" This from a woman who thought she didn't like Merce Cunningham. Duke Performances is presenting this last local opportunity to see one of the greatest modern dance companies before it disbands at year's end at the late choreographer's wishes. The big stage and technical capabilities of the Durham Performing Arts Center provide a venue that makes possible the presentation of the stupendous dance BIPED, with its blend of live dance, live music and animated holograms dancing in the cosmos.
The entire concert of motion and music on the 4th was amazing and beautiful and thrilling. The same program will repeat tonight: Duets (1980); BIPED (1999), and, after intermission, Sounddance (1975). It is fantastic to see powerful works from different periods of Cunningham's artistic journey, to see so clearly their commonalities and their changes. You could also enjoy this concert with your eyes closed, if for some reason wonderfully refined shape, line and color; brilliant manipulation of spatial perception; witty, virtuosic dancing and sheer glorious upright humanity are not for you. Duets is danced along with John Cage's Improvisation III, while BIPED goes with an awesome score by Gavin Bryars for violin, cello and electric guitar, and Sounddance immerses one in a kind of thought-demolishing roar of musical texture by David Tudor.
Every artwork wants you to experience it to the exclusion of all else, but few succeed so completely in taking captive your full attention, and shutting down the internal chatter. During Duets, I still found it possible to sort and compare and lay down verbal markers in my head, but with the second two pieces, I was swept into a timeless time, a wordless time, of pure experience. BIPED is one of the most complete artworks I've ever encountered. Each aesthetic element is fully formed and crafted, and all enacted together offer an ecstatic experience.
MCDC repeats tonight at the DPAC. See our calendar for details.