When I visited Walker Art Center's new exhibit, Merce Cunningham: COMMON TIME, the day after opening I was blown away… so much so that I went back the next day with grandkids in tow for this immersion experience.
Perhaps part of the reason I am so drawn to his work is the fact that interconnectedness is my top 'strength' and that's what Merce Cunningham was all about… connecting movement, sound and visual arts to share common time. My first introduction to collaborative modern dance and music was in Paris in May 1970 when I went to a dance performance unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before. I don't remember who the performers were, only that I was mesmerized and my perceptions of dance and music were changed forever. I was taken back to that experience at this exhibition. After I left I was compelled to check and see if Merce Cunningham was in Paris at that time. Indeed he was there… at the theater where I was… that was evidently my first Merce encounter.
Walker Art Center is home to the complete scenic and costume archive of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) and takes full advantage of these resources. Cunningham, who lived 1919-2009, was a renowned choreographer and dancer who revolutionized dance by partnering with leading artists who created costumes, lighting, films, music, and décor. I was amazed by the number of live screens scattered throughout the 7 galleries of this extensive exhibit. One of my favorite galleries was #7, filmed near the end of his life, when Cunningham was in a wheelchair. It exemplifies the impact of stillness and silence. I loved how you couldn't pass through the gallery without casting your silhouette on the screens, making the visitor part of the experience… which would be in a state of continual change.
In keeping with Merce Cunningham's persistence in pursuing the new and pushing both collaboration and boundaries, WAC commissioned Maria Hassabi to create a performance piece for the exhibition. No, those aren't random people lying on the floor… they are eight dancers inhabiting various spaces within Walker Art Center… creating a sculptural movement installation exploring the tension between stillness and sustained motion. In her own words…
“I am concerned with the separation between the spectacular and the everyday, between subject and object, between bystander and viewer—while addressing the ways in which dance and the spectacle of performance are presented in theatrical and exhibition contexts.”
Sharlene Hensrud, RE/MAX Results – Twin Cities Arts Realtor