Tanz in August celebrates Merce Cunningham

CCN – Ballet de Lorraine and DANCE ON Ensemble at Volksbühne, Berlin

Veronica Posth

Berlin’s summer dance festival Tanz im August celebrated the 100th anniversary of Merce Cunningham’s birth with a triple bill featuring RainForest and SoundDance, both performed by CCN – Ballet de Lorraine; and Berlin Story, a re-imagining of his Story, danced by DANCE ON Ensemble, a group of performers over 40. Three pieces and three stories to immerse oneself in.

The 1968 work, RainForest, sits amid Andy Warhol’s ‘Silver Clouds’, big floating balloons that recall rain drops or big pillows, the dancers appearing as light and delicate leaves or feathers. There is a general sense of calmness and serenity. Moving in solos, duets and trios, they cross the stage with elongated steps, soft and high leaps, spirals and twists on the floor, and small gestures. It’s beautiful and playful, and a setting that becomes interactive as gravity brings the ‘clouds’ to the floor, where they are shifted by the light and dynamic dancers. Particularly striking is the opposition of forces, strength and lightness, that merge yet shift in opposite directions.

CCN - Ballet de Lorraine in RainForestPhoto Laurent Philippe
CCN – Ballet de Lorraine in RainForest
Photo Laurent Philippe

Sounddance is an extraordinary assemblage of energies that creates an immense sense of alarm and awareness. Created by Cunningham in 1975 after a lengthy collaboration with the Paris Opera Ballet to music by David Tudor, it has a compelling energy within a structured chaos. The whole piece has a magnetic force that always attracts the attention and causes wonder. The work is a marvellous and moving explosion of energy. The pace of the dancers is remarkable. As multiple birds they move with lightness and at high-speed in a composition that is compact and beautifully structured. Their yellow T-shirts and stretched leggings are simple, yet perfect to allow spectators to enjoy their beautiful lines and neat movements. Behind them, an elegant draped golden curtain gives an air of royalty to the dance.

Berlin Story was performed by six dancers over 40 from the DANCE ON Ensemble, an initiative by Madeline Ritter and her team at Diehl+Ritter to create awareness of the issue of dance and age, and to demonstrate the value of age in both dance and society at large.

DANCE ON Ensemble in Berlin StoryPhoto Jubal Battisti
DANCE ON Ensemble in Berlin Story
Photo Jubal Battisti

Much of Cunningham’s original 1963 work, Story, has been lost. The new Berlin Story is the result of artistic director Ty Boomershine and rehearsal director Daniel Squire research and the creation of new material. In that original, artist Robert Rauschenberg created the set from found objects. Here, his role was taken by local artist John Bock who moves from one side to the other with his peculiar objects, distracting the attention of the spectators.

The composition of 18 sequences is changeable and colourful. They come in solos, duet, trios and as an ensemble. Costumes change too. Particularly interesting are the simultaneous but diverse phrases, moments in which everyone seems to be fully immersed in their own line of motion but where there is still a compact group dynamic. Reflecting the singularity and individuality of the inhabitants of Berlin, the dancers differentiate themselves from their bodies as they perform movements that remain part of the Cunningham vocabulary and aesthetic. Berlin Story appears spontaneous, yet we know it is not, the ongoing and eclectic scenes recalling the energy of an art hub: an organic, perfectly functioning and fascinating organism.