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Originally published October 28, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Page modified October 28, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Dance review

Cunningham dances hit antic, moody, transcendent notes

Merce Cunningham Dance Company hits antic, moody and transcendent notes — with "XOVER," "Quartet" and "BIPED," respectively — in the first of two appearances at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

Seattle Times arts writer

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

8 p.m. Saturday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $27-$60 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
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DANCE REVIEW |

Three strikingly different facets of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company were on display on Thursday night, as the troupe gave the first of two final performances in Seattle.

There was the brash, in-your-face "XOVER" (pronounced "Crossover") that set brightly lit action against Robert Rauschenberg's scrambled backdrop depicting broken roadwork barricades. On a smaller-scale, the moodily potent "Quartet" offered stark contrasts between four young dancers and an isolated older dancer (MCDC director of choreography Robert Swinston in a role that Cunningham himself originated).

Finally came the fleet serenity of "BIPED," which blended live dance with computer-generated shapes and figures projected onto diaphanous scrims — a magical multimedia affair the choreographer created in 1999 when he was 80.

"XOVER," from 2007, gave the evening a nicely jolting start, thanks in part to John Cage's score, which pitted amplified soprano Aurora Josephson against a whole bedlam of electronics. The sound, ricocheting around the Paramount Theatre in 3-D stereo, mimicked automatic weaponry at times. At another moment, it incorporated a jaunty bicycle bell (a bike gets a place of honor in Rauschenberg's torn-up freeway).

A dozen dancers dressed in white zipped on- and offstage in different configurations. Their movements — springy, lithe and agitated — ranged from stunted skips to carefree spins. Everyone kept on the move until Daniel Madoff and Melissa Toogood took center stage in a sumptuously slow duet. Their handhold connection made their dignified balance and counterbalance possible. Yet much of the time they looked away from each other, as though tempted away from the link they were maintaining.

A more severe disconnect propelled "Quartet" (1982). Swinston, who's been with MCDC since 1980, was the odd man out as four younger dancers formed fluid patterns and alliances. Something, Swinston could tell, was going on with them. But apart from rare moments of near-contact, he just wasn't part of their world. David Tudor's electronic score whispered, surged and moaned a chilling bleakness into the piece.

"BIPED," with the wizardry of Aaron Copp's lighting and the pulse of Gavin Bryars' minimalist-ambient score, closed the night on a note of transcendence. Rather than merely making entrances and exits, its 13 dancers seemed to fade into and materialize out of the darkness at the rear of the stage. An ever-mutating lineup of duets, trios, quintets, octets and other configurations gave each performer a chance to shine.

The computer wizardry, used sparingly, always let the focus return to the performers. Still, it was a huge draw and full of variety, featuring towering ghost dancers, rippling ectoplasm, floating stripes, rambling dots and more. At one point, a whole faint grid of light sank down around the performers, as if to take them with it.

The company returns Saturday, performing "Duets" (1980), "Split Sides" (2003) and "RainForest" (1968), in the last show they'll ever present in Seattle.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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