A Cunningham Event


I’m not a fan of endings, but as endings go, ending the Yale Dance Theater’s Cunningham Project with our two lecture/demonstrations was far better than I could have imagined.

Many different things contributed to the sense of purpose and solemnity, but also joy and pride that I and the other dancers experienced during these two showings. For one, as discussed in many of the post-show question and answer sessions, the space made a big difference. Dancing in a space as vast as the gym, both in terms of floor space and the extraordinarily high ceiling, completely changed our sense of the expansiveness of the movement. In particular my experience of performing a slow solo as part of the “four slow women” section suddenly had a greater sense of focus and perspective as the movement stretched to fill the enormous walls.

Of course, having an audience also changed our experience of the work. There was a pride in presenting our work, and in demonstrating to many at Yale the growing resources for dance at Yale as represented by this amazing project.

Most importantly, I found that having an audience and performing in the basketball arena gave me, and perhaps my fellow dancers, an overwhelming sense of the history of the work we were performing. It’s one thing to learn work in the studio, and to understand the work itself from the inside, and in truth that was the only thing I was expecting to experience in bringing that work to fruition in a performance – satisfaction in my knowledge of the work and in our performance of the steps.

As it turns out, and perhaps it was narrow-minded of me not to leave room for this – the environment and the audience made our performances about much more than just showing that we had mastered curves and tilts and triplets. We not only faced the enormity of the gym, but heard about how it related to the various places Cunningham used as locations for events. We did not only see the audience as family and friends, attending to applaud our efforts, but realized that the audience was composed of people who had never before seen Cunningham work – and who are not likely to have many opportunities to see his work going forward – alongside people who love and follow his work and have an even greater awareness of not only the works we were performing, but also this event, in Cunningham history, than we do. Putting our work over the semester in this context suddenly made it about much more than the sum of leg and arm motions. Presenting excerpts from Cunningham class, I realized we were giving people a glimpse into an entire world of dance, really, and a world we were privileged to have such thorough, if still brief, access to. It was the sense of place, of history, and of responsibility to represent Cunningham’s work to those who had never seen it before and to those who followed it faithfully, that made the lecture demonstrations transcend simple presentation for me. It was, truly, an event.