Banu Ogan helps us remember the Legendary Merce Cunningham
Dancers were reminded of Cunningham's influence and talent during the Dance Department's event.
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 3, 2013 17:03
Friday, Feb. 15th at 7:00 p.m., students and faculty gathered in the Dance Theater for a film screening of BIPED and a question-and-answer session with former Merce Cunningham dancer Banu Ogan.
The event, which was sponsored by the dance department, focused on the uniqueness and modernity of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. BIPED was filmed in France in 1999, and marked the first time that a motion capturer was used in a dance performance.
The film stood out from Cunningham’s other works, as the slow movement the dancers exhibited is uncharacteristic of his work. The choreography was robotic and futuristic; the dancers held their balance and showed off their flexibility.
The film’s modern feel was enhanced by the lighting, which shadowed the dancers in a creative and abstract way. The walls and the floor changed color from gray to light blue to black, and the music chosen for the film dramatized the performance. Each dancer had a partner at one point or another, and by the end of the film, there were fourteen dancers on stage simultaneously.
The Merce Cunningham dance company began at Black Mountain College in 1953. It was one of the first groups to experiment with creative movement, taking unusual approaches to the relationship between dance and music.
Merce’s company toured around the world for the first time in 1964, and featured no more than six dancers and two musicians. Merce Cunningham constantly put his innovation to work through the mediums of film and performance until his death in 2009. The company’s final shows were held at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City in 2011.
During the question-and-answer session, Ogan expressed the stress that she felt and the lack of sleep that she experienced as a dancer for the Merce Cunningham dance company. To overcome these obstacles, she and her dance partner would pretend they were Rose and Jack from The Titanic during the projection of the lights and the melodramatic music that was played.
She revealed that the dancers had no view of the audience while they were dancing; it was as if they were inside a bubble. Ogan explained that unlike other dancers,,, Merce Cunningham’s dancers were not entirely in unison with the music. Cunningham’s timing was intentional, because he wanted his choreography to be viewed as natural.
Ogan, who is now a dance professor at The Julliard School, admits that she didn’t fully master Cunningham’s choreography until about four years after she learned it. Distinctively, Merce Cunningham did not hold auditions for his dancers. Instead, he watched the dancers in his class and chose which of his students would best benefit from working with his company, as well as who would most nurture as a dancer. He didn’t teach his students how to dance; they learned by doing. “Merce was certainly ahead of his time,” Ogan said.
Merce Cunnigham will be remembered as a creative and innovative preserver of the arts. He brought a sense of nature and humanity to his choreography, which is admired by dancers and non-dancers alike.