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Merce Cunningham Dance Company

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Merce Cunningham's relentlessly abstract, often only vaguely musical works can seem formless and purposeless. Closer to paintings than dramas, they act as meditation devices. Yet each piece has a distinct feeling and movement style. Sounddance, created 30 years ago, is performed to an electronic score by David Tudor that recalls engines working, sometimes almost cheeping like birds. The movement is quick and sometimes birdlike, utilizing oddly lifted feet, and often the clusters of dancers look like the intertwined moving parts of a machine. The most recent of the works on these programs, 2004's Views on Stage, is dominated by Ernesto Neto's huge hanging sculpture, which seems about to crush the floppy, doll-like dancers beneath it. John Cage's music, which includes more silence than sound, adds to this piece's air of oppression. Split Sides, from 2003, is one of Cunningham's chance dances: a roll of the dice determines which of its two sections will be performed to which of its pieces of music, one by Radiohead and the other by Sigur Ros. Biped, performed here in 2000, is a high-tech wonder with angular choreography, a grid of light crisscrossing the stage, and motion-capture digital projections of a human body moving. Friday's program includes Split Sides, 1958's Suite for Five, and Sounddance, while Saturday's is divided between Views on Stage and Biped. 10/28-10/29: Fri-Sat 8 PM. Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-344-8300. $18-$48. Robert Swinston offers a master class Thu 10/27, 6 PM, at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, 1147 W. Jackson. $15; call 312-344-8300 for reservations. Bonnie Brooks, chair of the Dance Center of Columbia College, gives a preperformance talk each night at 7 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tony Dougherty.

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