Yale dance troupe performs work by Merce Cunningham
Yale Dance Theater, a company of student dancers led by Yale faculty Emily Coates, will present a showing of works by legendary dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) on Friday, April 27, in the basketball court (John Lee Amphitheater) of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, 70 Tower St.
Back-to-back performances of the same program will take place at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
In order to perform pieces by the iconic choreographer, a dance company must license the choreography through the Cunningham Trust and work with former dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to learn the choreographer’s distinctive technique and avant-garde aesthetic, notes Coates.
Acquiring the licensing to perform Cunningham’s work so soon after his company disbanded was a momentous occasion and positions Yale importantly within the larger dance world, notes Coates, who had performed with New York City Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, and with the noted choreographers Twyla Tharp and Yvonne Rainer before enrolling in Yale as a student. After graduating, she remained at Yale as a teacher and has led a successful campaign to bring dance to the academic curriculum as well as to provide new extracurricular opportunities to Yale’s dance community.
Friday’s performance will provide a rare occasion to see the living legacy of this American cultural icon as it is handed down from one generation to another.
The program will consist of an excerpt of “Roaratorio” (1983), with music by John Cage, and a MinEvent, a “collage” of Cunningham dances from different eras. The MinEvent will be accompanied by musicians from the Yale School of Music.
The unusual site for a dance performance and the carefully arranged original score by the Yale musicians contribute to making the Friday’s performances an “authentic Cunningham” experience, says Coates, noting that the visionary choreographer often eschewed traditional performance venues, and characteristically separated dance from its historical dependence on music, by instead allowing the dance and music to coexist independently in time and space.
Yale dancers who are participating in the Cunningham venture are keeping a blog of the experience, which Coates herself describes as a “research experiment.” If for Yale students the legacy of this original American dance-maker is more about engaging with his process than any final performance, as Coates suggests, the event on Friday will open the window on what makes his process unlike any other.
The performance is free. Reservations are required. Visit the Yale Drama Coalition website.