Brilliant Tranquillity

Merce Cunningham Creates New Worlds

In the enigmatic Body of Work, to a commissioned score by Daniel Bernard Roumain, we first see Lundell, Nelson, Aszure Barton, and Nell Breyer piled up on the altar steps—lit by Philip W. Sandstrom in an amazing effect that outlines the architecture in blue and green. Here the women do branch out into space—fall into soft canons, walk together—and they explore temporary partnerships and rivalries, looking up toward the end as if something were bearing down on them. I like the dance's tenderness and shifting currents, but its unvarying dynamic undercuts its power.

Daniel Squire and Jeannie Steele in Merce Cunningham’s Way Station
photo: Pete Kuhns
Daniel Squire and Jeannie Steele in Merce Cunningham’s Way Station

Just as Portrait of a Daughter has the most impact when movement (rather than perplexing facial expressions) carries feeling, Osserman's solo, Anti-Struggle, is most engaging when she's focused on the task at hand—for example, dragging resistant violinist Roumain away from his instrument by one foot, she remarks unsympathetically, "I told you the floor plan." In this talking dance about her predilection for grappling, tension often makes her seem arch and gives her efforts to tie herself in knots an unappealing petulance, at odds with her usual warm persona.

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