Review UC Davis

Cunningham Centennial
CNDC’Angers/Robert Swinston
Saturday, November 16, 2019
UC Davis Jackson Hall

I traveled 150 miles (round trip) to UC Davis’ Mondavi Center on Saturday, November 16, 2019 to see Robert Swinston’s company CNDCd’Angers do “Beach Birds” and “Biped”. It was an amazing and exhilarating experience.

Beach Birds” first premiered on June 20,1991 in Zurich, Switzerland, In Davis it was danced by eleven dancers who Swinston has gathered to form CNDC’Angers. He has brought similar groups to the US, most recently in April, 2019 at the Joyce Theater in New York City

Cunningham is quoted in the program citing his interest in birds, animals and “humans on the beach, looking at a rock and you go round it and it looks different each time, as if it were alive, too.” That is what is so fascinating about this dance “Beach Birds”. Although the dance movement is what we recognize as made of Cunningham technique and choreographic methods, the performance seems to change minute by minute inviting close observation and continuing delight. The dancers group and regroup invoking stillness and then sudden swift activity. A duet for two women toward the close of the work was particularly mesmerizing.

The dancers were: Marion Baudinaud, Antonin Chediny, Mathieu Chayrigues, Ann Chinescu, Pierre Guillbault, Gianni Joseph, Haruka Miyamoto, Catarina. Pernao, Flora Rogeboz, Carlo Schiavo, Claire Seigle-Goujon. The John Cage score, “Four (3)” was played live by Gavin Bryars, Morgan Goff, Audrey Riley and James Woodrow. Costumes and lighting were by Marsha Skinner.

I was fortunate to see “Biped” on April 23,1999 at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. Earlier Merce had shown me (and others) “motion capture,” the animation technology created by digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar. Cunningham and the artists “working with two dancers, choreographed 70 phases that were transposed into digital images.” These images are projected in the space above and through the dancers. As a constant dance viewer, I have often lamented the huge space above the human dancer. Artists provide lighting and backdrops to fill that space, but here, now in “Biped” we see projections of movement as well as abstract patterns that accompany the dancers as sound does. It is a fulfilling experience.

The company performed the solos, duets, trios and ensemble sections with elegant skill. The music, composed by Bryars, is partly recorded and partly played on acoustic instruments.

The dancers appear and disappear through curtained booths at the back of the stage. Toward the end Suzanne Gallo’s costumes (that use metallic fabric to reflect the light), the women are clothed in a transparent fabric that also reflects the light. Lighting credit goes to Aaron Copp.

Biped” brought special magic to this event, one of several special events we have been privileged to see in the Bay Area. Many kudos to Robert Swinston and CNDC d’Angers for their skill and stamina to bring it to us. The audience, many of whom had not seen works by Cunningham, were able to celebrate the Centennial in this special, unique UC Davis event.

Joanna G. Harris