Last week, Nordic Boy and I went to see the Merce Cunningham Legacy Tour. How to describe Merce Cunningham to non-dancey folks? That’s a tough one. Let’s just say that he was super prolific, his work was super brilliant, and to probably most people out there, his stuff is very, very deeply weird.
If you know something about ballet, and modern, and how they started to mush all together in the mid-twentieth centrury, Merce is totally fascinating. Where he took ideas about collaboration and autonomy of form and musicality (or lack thereof) can boggle a mind for sure. I happen to enjoy his work on its face, but I also enjoy it almost more for the ideas he’s executing. I feel, when I watch his work, the same way that I feel reading a really dense piece of literature. It makes my brain hurt with everything that is going on- so many levels, it’s just OUCH. I want a rewind button so I can go over parts of it again and again to figure it out, much like re-reading a passage in a book because the first time it’s just WUT. In a good way.
I have a thing I do when I see dance in person, on tv, wherever. If I am engaged in what’s happening, I sit on the edge of my seat, literally. I lean forward and stare. It’s annoying I am quite sure. But I don’t think there is anything on earth that makes me pay more attention than watching a kick ass dance. And Merce has me in that state.
That said, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, or even if you do, his shit is wacko looking. I would fully expect people to watch it and roll their eyes and giggle. I don’t blame you, really. It looks strange. The music is strange. If I didn’t know what I know, I would think it was coo coo for cocoa puffs.
When we were at the show last week, there were these two ladies that were sitting behind us, and I don’t know what they thought they were there to see, but clearly they weren’t expecting the nutty cha cha that was in process in front of their faces. After each piece, there would be a short pause, maybe of about 5 minutes. During this five minutes, these two ladies, who were apparently raised in the school of If You Can’t Say Something Nice Don’t Say a Goddamn Thing, tried to find something nice to say. The first pause went like this.
Lady #1: Well.
Lady #2: Yes. Well.
Lady #1: I, um. That was interesting.
Lady #2: Yes. Yes it was.
Lady #1: I thought the costumes were cute.
Lady #2: Me too! Definitely.
The costumes, let me point out, were plain off-white unitards. That is it. Pause #2?
Lady #1: Wow, that was just… great.
Lady #2: Sure. It really was.
Lady #1: They really must have to train a lot, huh?
Lady #2: I’m sure they do. Did you see their calves?
Calves. And costumes. You could just hear the strain in their voices. They wanted to yell out WHAT THE EFF AM I LOOKING AT, THESE PEOPLE LOOK LIKE THEY ARE HAVING FITS, but they were too refined for that. It was adorbs. I sort of loved those ladies.
During the show, there were a couple of points where I too reached my limit of weird. I can sustain a lot of weird, but Merce got me twice. Here’s how.
First of all, there was a soprano who accompanied the first piece, and she was singing some crazy shit. It was like free jazz, only more free. No melody, no words. There was high, low, gutteral, and everything in between. She even had sound effects with her- she held up a jack in the box to her microphone at one point, and honked a horn at another point. It was kooky, but I was into the dance, it didn’t matter. Go crazy, kooky lady, I can handle this. Until a really weird sound came over the mic, and I was like oh no she isn’t, and I looked over and people! She was straight up GARGLING into the microphone. Holding a cup of water, head tipped back, holding a gargly note.
My weirdometer broke on that one. To paraphrase Meatloaf: I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR DANCE, BUT I CAN’T DO THAT.
I could not go with the gargling.
The second time my concentration was breached was during a point where a bunch of dancers were out on stage, jumping in a disjointed manner, all separate and deceptively random. The music was also dissonant and random, with sounds that included car horns and doorbells. Nordic Boy leaned up to me, in all my seated-at-the-edge-of-my-chair seriousness, and whispered: “Oh we are so doing this dance when we get home.” Dudes, it was FUNNY. It was like when Jerry Seinfeld put his Pez dispenser on his knee at the piano show and Elaine got the giggles. I was Elaine. I am sure all the fancy dance people were appalled.
Anyway, despite these things, I loved the show. RIP, Merce. Thanks for the intellectually, artistically challenging wackness.