This April, our Mainstage dance show contains a project that has been in the works for 2 years. Faculty member Megan Walker-Straight is remounting Merce Cunningham’s Native Green (1985), a piece that has great meaning for her – she loved dancing in it when she was part of his company in New York City.
Posted on 14 Mar 2014 in
- Native Green comes full circle
Megan Walker-Straight restages Merce Cunningham work
Photo courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo by JoAnn Baker
We asked Megan how this project came about and what the experience has been like.
This is the first time Native Green has been licensed by either an educational or professional group. How did you gain permission to restage the work?
I received a 2013 Fellowship from the Cunningham Trust to re-stage Native Green. This Fellowship program allows selected former company members to remount Merce’s choreography at the Trust’s studio at City Center in NYC. This is done using a select group of dancers and with access to all existing assets including Merce’s original notes, video footage, and the whole hearted support of the Trust community. I was in the original cast of Native Green and of course worked directly with Merce when the piece was created. I spent last summer in New York reconstructing the piece for two casts of dancers who then performed the piece. That experience has led to my restaging of the dance at SFU.
It is considered one of Merce Cunningham's nature dances. How would you describe the movement?
When I danced Native Green I was always intrigued and challenged by Merce’s choreographic taming of huge movement flow with an odd and precise boundary of phrase. This created a perplexing and awkward balance between limitation and freedom. Native Green is a very lush, sensual mix of goofiness and elegance much the way the elegance of a heron’s step co-exists with the goofy unpredictable dive of its head into water while fishing.
What has the experience choreographing the piece taught you about Cunningham's legacy in dance?
This process has been a window looking in from a perspective I never knew in my years in the Company. At that time focusing on my steps took all of my attention. In this project I can experience Native Green as a whole, layered with connections and humor, dense with the choices Merce made based on the chance structures of his choreography, the particular qualities of his movement style, and the personality of his dancers. The amount of preparation time has been unbelievable. It has been a work of devotion to his genius and devotion to the history of dance which offers support, inspires, and like a sling shot shoots us forward. Not unlike walking a tightrope, I have struggled to execute his choreography faithfully and still balance what these new dancers bring to the movement.
Students will be wearing the original costume design featuring hand printed designs by William Anastasi. How did you get a hold of them?
Cunningham’s sets and costumes were donated to the Walker Art Centre, but a few were inadvertently left behind with the Trust. The costumes for Native Green have been loaned to me for the performances. They each have the nametag sewn in from the company member who last wore them. This has given the students a poignant sense of history as they re-wear the same costumes, execute the same steps, and very likely share the same technical and expressive challenges and joys of these former dancers.
Alex Mah, a music student will be performing the music by John King live on violin. John gave Alex private coaching on the piece. How did that come about?
Alex will be performing Gliss in Sighs, which was John King’s first collaboration with Cunningham and the start of a long relationship with the Company and the Cunningham Foundation. When he was in Vancouver recently to work with Ballet BC, he had two one-on-one sessions with Alex. Alex also had access to the Dance Capsule which contains a record of all the creative elements of the dance and is provided by the Cunningham Trust. The dancers do not hear the music until the performances in April as was always the case in Merce’s work. Dancers dance and musicians make music and we meet in the same space and time on opening night; two separate and equal partners. As John Cage, Merce's life long partner and musical collaborator once explained, "the music and dance are created separately, but are performed together for the convenience of the audience". Two shows for the price of one!!