The Merce Cunningham Dance Company
rolls through Chicago for the final time on Friday and Saturday, performing at the Harris Theater
as part of its Legacy Tour. (It began last February and winds up on New Year's Eve in New York, with tickets going for a mere ten bucks.) Cunningham, one the greatest choreographers of modern dance, died in 2009 at the age of 90, and one of the notable achievements of his long career was to use some of the most radical, forward-looking music ever made in his performances. Of course, Cunningham's partner was brilliant composer and thinker John Cage
, so he was never at a loss for resources. Cage was a longtime musical director of the company—which officially began in 1953—and after his death the role was taken over by David Tudor
and Takehisa Kosugi
. The company's list of repertory composers is staggering, a kind of who's who of the avant-garde: Maryanne Amacher, Robert Ashley, Pierre Boulez, Earle Brown, Brian Eno, Pierre Henry, Annea Lockwood, Gordon Mumma, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros, LaMonte Young, and many others. A huge number of great players from the worlds of jazz, improvisation, and experimental music worked with the company, including Jim O'Rourke, Christian Marclay, Marina Rosenfeld, Keith Rowe, and William Winant.
There are four pieces on this weekend's program, drawn from the company's vast repertoire. The daring music from two of them was featured in a fantastic ten-CD box set released at the end of last year, Music for Merce: 1952-2009 (New World). The set is packed with compositions that were used in various Cunningham works throughout the decades, and they all still sound bold today; it also includes an invaluable 120-page booklet crammed with photos, discographical information, and superb, in-depth liner notes by Amy C. Beal that detail the affinity the choreographer saw between sound and movement. Naturally, it offers a dazzling overview of the music that Cunningham's company danced to, but it also functions as a decent survey of experimental composition over the last half of the 20th century. The 1976 piece Squaregame features Kosugi's warped violin-and-voice music S.E. Wave/E.W. Song from the same year, and the 1982 piece Quartet uses Tudor's live-electronics composition Sextet for Seven (1982). The set includes lots of Cage , but neither the music for 1958's Antic Meet, which uses his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, nor the music for 1983's Roaratorio, which uses his Roaratorio, an Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake (1979), are included.
BJ Nilsen, The Invisible City (Touch)
Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz, Aguzate (Alegre/Fania)
The Endtables, The Endtables (Drag City)
Volcano Choir, Unmap (Jagjaguwar)
Anat Fort Trio, And If (ECM)