Walker celebrates Cunningham in new performing arts season

merce.jpg When the Walker Art Center announced its multimillion dollar purchase of Merce Cunningham materials, Philip Bither knew what part of his new season had to be.

“When we announced the purchase of sets props and costumes that have been part of Cunningham’s works for 60 years a couple of months ago we also realized we have to bring the company back one last time,” Bither said in his office yesterday afternoon.

Cunningham, who died late last year, first performed at the Walker almost 50 years ago, culminating with “Ocean,” a huge production in the round performed in a granite quarry near St Cloud. His company will disband after one final tour with a show in New York on New Years Eve. Despite this long association, the MCDC has never actually performed at the Walker itself, always using other stages around the area, so this show will be both a first and a last.

Bither has build a 10 day festival around the MCDC performances. It will feature an exhibit of pieces Robert Rauschenberg made for Cunningham, the first of several such shows planned for coming years featuring other artists who worked with the choreographer. There will also be a Cunningham inspired performance by French choreographer Jerome Bel.

The centerpiece of the show will be the performances of three works from throughout Cunningham’s career.

“It’s a piece from 1958 called “Antic Meat” with sets and props designed by Robert Rauschenberg and costumes,” said Bither. “A piece from ’68 with sets by Andy Warhol and then a piece from ’98 with a set by Roy Lichtenstein and music by Brian Eno.”

20110106_bither_39[1].jpgThe release of the Walker performing arts season is always a little daunting because of its size and scope.

“Our 2011-2012 season spans from experimental theater and performance art through contemporary dance in all its various styles into avant-guard jazz, experimental rock, new sounds from all over the globe, contemporary classical music and then all the hybrids in between,” he said.

There are six commissions in the season, including a residency and new work called “Story/Time” by Bill T. Jones which is actually based on a piece called “Indeterminacy” created in 1959 by Cunningham’s long-time collaborator and partner John Cage where he told 90 stories in 90 minutes. Jones, who is riding high with his Broadway hits “Spring Awakening” and “Fela” will perform stories he has written himself as members of his dance company move around him. (below)

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Other highlights include: a festival of new music and dance from the Congo call “Despair Be Damned” and “Structures and Sadness” by Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin which was inspired by the collapse of a bridge in Melbourne and is likely to have local resonance given the I-35 bridge disaster.

‘Out There 2012: New World Performance’ will feature works from Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Beirut, and “Untitled Feminist Multimedia Technology Show” by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company which explores feminism and gender fluidity with a cast of performers who are nude for the entire show.

There is a two day mini-festival featuring the work of jazz composer Vijay Iyer, and a multimedia collaboration between spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph and visual artist Theaster Gates. Contemporary classical darling Nico Muly will reunite with several of his collaborators in the 802 tour, and Seun Kuti, son of Fela Kuti, will bring his incarnation of Afrobeat.

Another Walker commission features Brooklyn indie band the Lisps, performing “Futurity” which imagines a correspondence during the Civil War between a

Union soldier and Ada Lovelace as they attempt to design a steam-powered brain to save humanity. The season rounds out with the return of indie band Tortoise to collaborate with Twin Cities jazz musicians, and then David Zambaro will turn the Maguire stage into a club with a performance of “Soul Project.”

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