'Chance Operations' will shape Cunningham's 'XOVER'

by Lisa Moon | 10/4/07 1:23am

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Merce Cunningham spoke with students at the Hanover Inn on Tuesday morning.

Typical of Cunningham, rather than returning to a celebration of his past works for the seminal 50th anniversary of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, he continued on his ceaselessly inventive departure from his experience in traditional dance into a world of glorious experimentation with the most current in a string of innovative collaborators -- Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg are noteworthy past examples.

Yet as complicated as his work remains, Cunningham proved that even the most inexperienced audience members could be given a chance to act as participants in the translation of his richly conceived work.

To call Cunningham simply a choreographer doesn't do him justice; his work blurs the boundaries between dance, art and music, and makes a commentary on all three.

In a way, it is appropriate that I was originally attracted to Cunningham's work through the music rather than any other facet.

And the notion of chance is what Cunningham's work is about -- "Chance Operations," to be specific, a term that Cunningham himself branded with his lifelong collaborator and companion John Cage to serve as a formula for the Cunningham experience.

Their famed method relies on the completely isolated production of all three forms of music, art, and dance in order for a natural, spontaneous explosion of creativity to occur on stage before the audience's eyes.

Each night, a roll of the dice will determine which of the two compositions will go first. Another roll will determine the order of costumes, the decor and lights. In the end, this means that no one, including the dancers, the audience and Cunningham himself, has any idea of what to expect on stage.

With this philosophy in mind, I walked into Hayward Lounge at the Hanover Inn yesterday expecting to meet quite the complicated man. Groups of Cunningham believers adorned the various tables to hear the words of one soft-spoken man with a hulking presence and to catch a glimpse of his famed cheeky sense of humor.

When one attendee asked what he should look forward to during the world premiere of Cunningham's "XOVER" on Friday night at Moore Theater, Cunningham responded, "Well, I've heard part of the music, which often doesn't happen..."

It turned out, as was the binary nature of his work, the man himself was complicated yet accessible, simplifying his philosophy.

"This way of working is not to be mysterious, but it's to allow things to happen between three people who can't guess what's going to happen when music, dance and art get together," Cunningham said.

"You can get the objects but can't know how they will cooperate; it's brought to my imagination interesting things -- what takes place when we all get together."

On Friday night, Cunningham returns full circle with the latest in a series of renowned collaborations with visual artists and performers. The sold-out world premiere of "XOVER" will justapose his work with that of past collaborators John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg.

The premiere will also be accompanied by the 1960 classic "Crises," and Cunningham's latest technological innovation, "Eyespace," which requires each viewer to bring his or her own iPod to play the Mikel Rouse's score, "International Cloud Atlas," created specifically for this performance.

As for what the future holds, Cunningham said, "...endless possibilities for human beings in terms of movement ... I just hope I find more of them."

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