My review in the Chronicle:
“Friday night, lost in Merce Cunningham’s sensuous “Biped” at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, I thought I’d start this review by rhapsodizing about “Biped” as the perfect portal for someone who’s never seen a Cunningham dance. I thought I’d tell readers that if you’re considering coming to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s second weekend at Cal Performances – and you should – you should make certain to come on Friday, when “Biped” will be repeated. I’d go on about “Biped’s” shimmering Gavin Bryars score, about how the 1999 dance feels more lush and human and generous than most of Cunningham’s work, about how the ghostly motion-capture video projections, the disembodied lines moving like angelic forces of geometric beauty, warm up a spirituality that tends to feel coldly intellectualized.
After all, I figured, especially as Cunningham nears 90 years of age – and as Cal Performances does right by his troupe’s venerated 55 years with two packed weeks of colloquia, a film series and more – Cunningham converts forget that his work frequently strikes the uninitiated as inscrutable, impenetrable, even pointless. Liberating dance from music and decor, embracing chance techniques, embodying the Zen attitudes of his partner and collaborator, John Cage: You can read about all the avant-garde advances in the dance history books and still feel affronted at the performance. After all, a lot of Cunningham is meant, however slyly, to affront you.
My own Cunningham conversion came very late, just two years ago. I was watching a typical Cunningham dance with its typical unsettling mix of precision and randomness, and suddenly it struck me. The key was to release myself from the paralyzing burden of trying to find my own meaning in every moment – to refrain from reprimanding myself for tuning out. I surrendered to watching Cunningham as a kind of meditation. And suddenly, the beauty of sheer form was everywhere.”
Click here for the rest of the review.