Merce Cunningham Dance Company, The Joyce, New York

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Even at 87, Merce Cunningham is not above a gimmick. Or so it would seem with his latest dance eyeSpace. Inviting audiences to bring their iPods to the performance sounded like a stunt. To experience the new piece fully, one required an iPod (loaned to those not owning one, as they entered the auditorium). But once Mikel Rouse’s disjointedly eclectic score, International Cloud Atlas, started, with accompanying computer- generated sounds played live, all gimmickry faded. A dozen dancers performing wonders of poise, balance and off-balance in a series of quartets, trios and a knockout concluding duet proved again the choreographer’s genius.

For Cunningham, the look is almost formal. Set against Henry Samelson’s abstract design resembling huge nails or rounded-end pins scattered over a rosy background, the dancers stood out in unitards of aqua, turquoise or sapphire. The first quartet lunged into ecstatic poses, arms spread, heads thrown back – something of a departure for the usually impassively serious company.

My iPod had something like a Hawaiian chant on it, but it could have easily been some quite different sound set on shuffle. The high point of the piece was a geometrically designed duet with Liverpool-born Julie Cunningham, slender, stick- straight with short red hair, and Daniel Squire, her sturdy partner. Here too there was emotional tension created as, having danced icily detached, she suddenly fell to the floor as if surrendering.

It was interesting to contrast eyeSpace with Crises, created in l960, set to an almost tunefully jazzy score for player piano by Conlon Nancarrow. The choreography has more of a narrative feel to it than Cunningham’s recent chance-determined pieces. Rashaum Mitchell, a standout in even this talented company was the pursuing male with Holley Farmer his primary partner out of three others.

Athough the choreography for Scenario Minievent with its springy jumps, fluttering batterie and quick spins is irresistible, I have never been able to reconcile myself to Rei Kawakubo’s costumes – lumpy attachments to chest, midriff and derrière that detract from the line and movement. Cédric Andrieux was outstanding in a lengthy solo. Coincidentally, his costume was lump-free. ★★★★☆

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