Star cast produces Merce Cunningham’s centenary ballet

Star cast produces Merce Cunningham’s centenary ballet

Night of 100 solos is an intimate yet far-reaching performance event, with set design by the late Richard Hamilton, and music in part by Christian Marclay

Merce Cunningham shifted modern dance on its axis. Now, ten years after his death, and 100 years since his birth, London’s Barbican has celebrated the choreographers legacy with a fittingly groundbreaking performance: Night of 100 Solos. The challenging work played for just one night in April, and saw sister performances in New York and LA. A total of 100 solos graced stages, many in unison, with 25 performers per location.

The Barbican event showcased important dancers on the London circuit. Siobhan Davies continues her relationship with the institution, after her fascinating installation with Glithero at Barbican in 2017, alongside standout performances from Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn (of BalletBoyz fame) and Beatriz Stix-Brunell. In Cunningham’s distinct style, dancers became insectile and angular, while possessing a kind of intangible grace. ‘If you’re not trained in Merce Cunningham it just feels completely awkward, and you feel completely ugly for the first couple of rehearsals,’ says Nunn in an accompanying film promoting the performance. ‘And then it all slowly starts to make sense. I think that’s the beauty of it.’

 A Centennial Event. With performers Siobhan Davies and Harry Alexander
Merce Cunningham Trust, Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event. Siobhan Davies and Harry Alexander. Photography: Stephen Wright

The Marcel Duchamp-inspired was as intriguing as the dancers. Swathing projections by late artist Richard Hamilton backlit the stage. They’re taken from Shadows Cast by Readymades – a black-and-white video collage that Hamilton made for a Cunningham performance at the Barbican in 2005, directly drawing on the works of Duchamp. Hamilton’s set design for the original performance (which took place on 14 June 2005) comprised a projected collage of film and photographs that reflected on Duchamp’s readymades; mixing images with text from his publication the Green Box. The projects reflect Duchamp’s interest in movement and gravity – an apposite theme to connect with Cunningham’s performance.

An upturned watering can rotates obliquely, spilling nothing, as two dancers in pivot in uncoordinated isolation. A dancer clad in lurid pink lycra performs a simple routine of Battement frappé, under the shadow of an enormous black umbrella. All the while a corkscew descends ominously on the screen behind.

A star-cast production continues with the score, performed in part by artist and former Wallpaper* Guest Editor Christian Marclay, alongside Mira Benjamin, John Lely, and Anton Lukoszevieze, coordinated by Christian Wolff. John Cage-esque, filled with metallic riffs, tinny sequences, and the odd scream, one imagines its not the easiest score to dance to. Indeed, the performers are said to have heard it for the first when the curtain rose. Instead, they dance around the music – another Cunningham technique that’s been honoured, in order to spark a sense of organic connection between dancer, musician and audience. §

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