For his Museum Ludwig performance workTREATISE ON THE VEIL—part of the museum’sexhihibitionTRANSCORPOREALITIES—Nick Mauss “draws out resonances between disparate works from the museum’s collection, such as Jasper Johns’ 15′ Entr’acte (1961) encountering a painting of lingering performers by Erich Heckel (1928). In Mauss’ configuration, these works dialog with a projected photo archive by Carl Van Vechten and a new choreography developed with students from the University for Music and Dance Cologne.”*
“The beauty of dance… is that it gets passed from one body, one soul, to another. There’s something so beautiful, so precious about that. It comes out of the body, it goes into the air, and then it disappears.” — Stephen Petronio
In the afterglow of the Merce Cunningham—Night of 100 Solos events, the immersive new documentary IF THE DANCER DANCES tells a different Cunningham story: the 2015 restaging of the choreographer’s RainForest by the Stephen Petronio Company.
The sexual quality and hint of narrative in this 1968 dance—with music by David Tudor, costumes by Jasper Johns, and décor by Andy Warhol (the silver, helium-filled pillows)—create an atmosphere distinct from almost every other Cunningham work. The challenge for the stagers—and Cunningham company veterans—Andrea Weber, Meg Harper, and Rashaun Mitchell is replacing the continuous-movement ethos of the Petronio dancers with Cunningham’s non-momentum aesthetic. As the film demonstrates, how to do this is perhaps a subject of dispute:
“The focus needs to be exactly on what you’re doing, and not on an image of anything.” — MegHarper
“RainForest… transcended pure movement… [The dancers] need to hear images that might help them.” — Gus Solomons, Jr., Cunningham company veteran
IF THE DANCER DANCES—directed by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler—mixes extensive performance and interview footage of Petronio’s dancers and their teachers with scenes of Cunningham rehearsals from the 1960s. This essential document of modern dance making and Cunningham’s philosophy and practice is playing around town through May 9.