Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Merce Cunningham Dance Company Programme 2: CRWDSPCR (1993), XOVER (2007/bite08), Split Sides (2003/bite04)

Barbican Theatre

Daniel Madoff and Julie Cunningham XOVER. Photo by Kawakahi Amina

Programme Two reminds us that Cunningham reaches parts that others can only dream of attaining, opening the doors to new ways of perception.

The deceptive simplicity and resonating richness of Cunningham's creativity, undimmed by time or age, is reconfirmed on the second viewing of his newest work, XOVER, central to both programmes. The controlled abandon of his choreography, his mischievous faith in unpredictability, reveal more of its textured layers: the dancers are freewheeling emotion-free atoms in a clinical brave new world, and yet the duet (Julie Cunningham and Daniel Squire) at its centre is dignified and tender - the space odyssey has a heart after all. The final look is not of fear but wonder. How could I have been so mistaken - or so fickle in response...

It is all of a piece - a continuum - with his 1993 CRWDSPCR (pronounced crowd spacer), featuring John King's blues '99, and his 2003 Split Sides with music by Radiohead and Sigur Rós. All three are danced by the whole company of thirteen.

CRWDSPCR pits movement against urgent ear-assaulting electronic sound. In full body leotards in soft pastel harlequin blocks of colour (Dolly mixtures? Sugar Plum Fairies?), the dancers run, warm up in their own time, resist the manic music, then they stop and look.

Slowly, very slowly, the computer-programmed robots relax into gently held graceful poses - you can't rush me, I'm in control.

En masse the dancers are gymnastically effective, mirror-imaging to faintly oriental undertones and martial drums. There's little body contact, but when it happens it's all the sweeter: a joyful Mark Morris pastoral surprise after the automaton repetitions.

A cacophony of sound; jarring awkward shapes; a salute to the sun - the rites of spring? The curtain is lowered, the dancers are still moving - particles in perpetual motion? Interminable motion. The 30 minutes felt much longer.

And, finally, Split Sides (40-minute long) is constructed on the throw of a dice. Not unlike Luke Rhinehart's 1971 subversive Dice Man, who makes life decisions on the roll of a dice. Whatever you chose will work out fine. One can always rely on the chaotic randomness of the universe.

The Archivist introduces himself and asks members of the company (not the dancers) to throw a dice (the video of the mat and dice is projected on to the backcloth) to decide the order of the dance, the costumes, the music, the décor, and the lighting cues.

Ambient sound interspersed with speech and Indian motifs, two different backcloths, two sets of costumes (coloured or black and white), two sets of compositions - all are interchangeable. Like Picasso painting on glass to show us how 'it' works, Cunningham playfully illustrates that he can make anything work if he wills it.

Stock moves, smooth, staccato, repeated, multiplied, and reversed. Commedia dell'arte; pierrot gestures; mechanical wind-up musical toys; the click and whirr of clockwork dolls. Are we passive cogs in the wheel of life? Or moon-worshippers of the mysterious orb suspended overhead? Arms reach to the sky - are the dancers swaying trees or Indian temple gods? Silhouettes against the darkening sky - images on the retina of the mind.

Fyodor Tyutchev wrote in 1866 - Russia cannot be understood by intellect alone / Nor measured by the common scale / She has a special kind of grace / Faith in her is what one has to maintain - the same might be said of Merce Cunningham by his faithful adoring fans.

Constantly renewing, Cunningham's latest generous initiative is his "Mondays with Merce" or "MwM" free to download from the internet (www.merce.org). Webcasts of the day he teaches class at the Westbeth Studios in West Village Manhattan, these will be invaluable to future dancers, choreographers, archivists, and dance buffs. Up-to-date as usual - e-learning. "Just keep looking." (M. Cunningham.)

Reviewer: Vera Liber