by Angela Sutton
Photo: J. Cervantes
The Baryshnikov Arts Center presented a stunning remapping of modernist dance and music on Thursday night at the Jerome Robbins Theater in Manhattan. Pianist Alexei Lubimov and soprano Joelle Harvey provided the accompaniment, John Cage’s 4 Walls (1944), to a reconstituted performance of Merce Cunningham’s Doubletoss (1993).
4 Walls is an early Cage composition for solo piano (surprisingly, without extra hardware!). The work develops by contrasting heavy, single-note bass lines with chords in the piano’s upper register that become steadily thicker and more agitated despite the insertion of sudden silences. Mr. Lubimov, equipped with a lid-less Steinway and a desk lamp, performed the piece with great vigor and precise timing.
Doubletoss, originally presented with abstract music by Takehisa Kosugi and recalibrated for 4 Walls by former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member Robert Swinston, was the first piece Cunningham presented after his lifelong partnership with Cage ended upon Cage’s death in 1992. The name comes from its die-rolling creation process, which merged two dance patterns into one piece. One group of dancers, wearing street clothes, moves slowly and fluidly across the stage, while another, in nude leotards and black netting, moves manically about, alternately supporting and manipulating the first group (who appear ignorant of their presence), or withdrawing behind a scrim.
Although the MCDC famously dropped “storytelling,” some narrative clearly exists here: The netting group acts as an ethereal mirror to the street-clothes group, and the fact that the same dancers are in both groups through a well-paced change of costume only heightens the perceived effect. The piece ultimately culminates as the street-clothes group suddenly begin to imitate their shadows. This apex—arriving after the soprano’s song of lost love from the balcony, and coinciding with the thickest portion of the piano score—became, for me, a heartbreaking representation of the moment of death. As the dancers approached the end of the work, they slowly separated again into one final, geometric tableaux.
There is still a chance to experience this powerful work, with two performances slated for today (Saturday) at the Jerome Robbins Theater.