Fort Worth — “All movement is dance,” said Merce Cunningham—or something like that. “All sound is potential music,” said Cunningham’s longtime collaborator John Cage.
Together they set in motion the long, convoluted path of modern-post-modern-contemporary dance, picked up with a vengeance by the Judson Church crowd in the ’60s and making its way just last Saturday to the 13th Annual Modern Dance Festival at the Modern, presented by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. The festival, built around the exhibit “Frank Stella: A Retrospective,” begins in the Grand Lobby, moves into the auditorium, and then back to the lobby.
But first, the auditorium. Bringing to our attention just how radical Cunningham’s mantra was, we have 76-year-old Gus Solomons, Jr. to thank, the star of the festival and a radical in his own right. Solomons, in fact, was the best thing on the show, performing a witty I Used to be Taller before turning our attention on a 23-minute film 498, 3rd Avenue. In the film, created in 1967, we get a glimpse of just how bare-to-the-bones dance pioneers lived.
Throughout this black-and-white film, Cunningham moves around the dreary studio turning on lights and opening the blinds. The noise of the street comes through. From one window a lone tree in bloom is visible below on Third Avenue. Cunningham talks about art, about the company—all of six dancers, including him—about being $20,000 in debt. We watch dancers rehearse Scramble, which featured a moving set design by Frank Stella, and then close to the end, a fascinating clip featuring Solomons slowly, slowly falling backward with Sandra Neels plastered to his chest, going impossibly low until his knees touch ground. Later, Jeff Slayton who will take Solomons’ place, says wryly “I was doing things I wasn’t capable of doing.”
Tall and lanky, and wearing a dapper suit and peach-colored shirt, Solomons slowly makes his way to the center front of the auditorium. (In the lobby, he walks with a cane.) He starts off by saying “I used to be taller,” flapping his arms around his torso and head. “I used to be happier,” he says, twisting sideways. He has limbs that seem to have no hinges. “I used to be sadder…crazier…angrier.” All of these deadpan comments come with a short pause, a wiggle, a slap on feet and legs. The coat comes off and he’s pinned up against the wall. “I used to be whiter.”
Solomons left Cunningham in 1968 and formed his own company three years later, creating dozens of dances. He favors clean lines (he was, after all, an MIT graduate in architecture), isolated body shapes and quick reversals in direction.
We see a little of that post-modern, Cunningham influence in two solos and Solomons’ own stamp in his Steps #13: Thirteens. The two solos were performed at the beginning of the show, and Solomons’ Steps toward the end.
In Company M2’s Changing Topologies, Tina Mullone is all angles and slides to the floor, her arms active, her hips rocking. She seems keenly in touch with sounds that seem to come from pipes, so much so that by the end it seems she is the instrument.
In Kelly Kocinski Trager’s Full of Scratches, Trager pretty much stays put, balancing on one long arabesque with her upper body pitched forward, then slowly swings the arabesque legs to the side. She does this in many permutations, channeling Cunningham and his long, long one-legged balances but making more use of strong arms. The movement is slow and deliberate, as though she is carving out space.
Solomons’ Steps #13 is one long string of movement, performed by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. Six dancers in bright-colored unitards walk, bend sideways, dip and make sharp quarter turns, often with arms straight out. They come and go at random, in twos and threes, covering space with purposeful strides. The repetition on a theme needed a little sharper focus to carry the drive of the music.
Also on the program were an aerial ballet, a clever use of a cyr wheel, and a concept piece that involved the rolling out of yards of crumpled paper.
In STELLAAA!, Hilary McDaniel-Douglas climbs high up and slides down using fabric as a rope. Some of the images were striking, but the effort of twisting her way up seemed too strenuous. In Marianne Ruth’s Done our eyes stayed glued on Frank Chapman gliding effortless on a wheel gyroscope, as Ms. Ruth circles in her own orbit.
What to say about What. This. Is. with the rolled-up crumpled paper, performed by Wayne M. Smith and jhon r. stronks? One word: pretentious.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.