Giant's steps

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  August 4, 2009

Sounddance (1975) was made long before Cunningham started composing with the LifeForms computer software. Although he made up the movements himself, everything else — timing, number of repetitions, groupings and pathways in the space — was probably determined by the impartial throw of the dice. That is, by chance operations. The dancers back then had the same characteristic leggy, focused neutrality that they do now, but the action, the dance itself, was edgy, fraught, even.

Sounddance is one of the few Cunningham works that has a theatrical setting. Mark Lancaster's swags of fabric almost conceal a curtained entryway upstage center. The dancers arrive by pushing through this passage; at the end, they leave one by one.

Besides this conventional framing, Sounddance acquired an unaccustomed dramatic focus from Cunningham himself, who danced a little apart from the others and dominated the proceedings. In that role, Robert Swinston seems to orchestrate the other dancers as they run, fall and catch one another, join together in strained balances and flying lifts.

Moore's noise music is loud and urgent; the low registers shake the floor and the seat you're sitting in. The dance slows down for a minute, then speeds up and the dancers veer off and barge out through the curtain. Swinston is the last. He comes forward toward the audience, seems to hesitate, backs up as if pulled toward the exit. Then he turns away decisively and, without regret, he goes.

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