From Pyramids to RainForest: Merce's Dancers in Mexico

posted by Rashaun Mitchell on Monday, Oct 03, 2011
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On our final world tour, traveling to unknown cities such as Mexico 
City makes me think fondly of Merce. The dancers are thrust into
 unfamiliar places and encouraged to push through our fatigue to
 experience something new. It's not unlike dancing in the Cunningham
 Company or being exposed to the difficulties of his movement as a new 
dancer in the company. Of course the years of experience don't prepare
 you for new things. They only give you confidence that the unfamiliar 
will eventually become familiar.

 

In the largest city in North America, after perusing a crafts market,
 sipping tequila, and taking a potentially messy chance at a tasty 
street vendor, a group of us took our spice-filled tummies to an Aztec 
pyramid outside of the city. The grand structures of Teotihuacan and 
the sweeping mountain views filled me with a sense of awe. The daily 
afternoon rainstorm added its element of chaos. Merce’s work, though
 smaller in scale and history, gives me a similar sense, especially in
 site-specific Events where we share our performances with nature.

 

Left: Oxygen refill with Dylan Crossman & Melissa Toogood. Right: Rashaun in the rain.

 

The theater in Mexico City, Pelacio Bellas Artes, where we worked for
 five days, is a tourist site unto itself. The stage curtain is a stained
 glass wall that attracts regular group tours, which force us to
 rehearse in an upstairs studio at certain times. I think Merce would
 have been amused by the sounds coming up from the street to our 
practice studio. The smells…not so much. But feeling the vibrancy
 of city life always inspired him and many of his collaborators. On 
that first day of work, the car horns, traffic whistles, people
 chanting in the streets, as well as the giant oxygen tank situated in
 our studio to help with altitude fatigue, kept me motivated.

 

Later in the week some of us ventured out at night to sample the 
cactus drink known as pulque. Since the glutinous drink is believed to have mild hallucinatory effects, we drank it warily. The taste memory still lingers with me.

A big group of us went to see a Lucho Libre wrestling match. We were entertained by characters with names like Superporky and Maximo (a
 gay character also known as an exotico). The crowd loved him.
 Princessa Blanca won my favor with her black lace unitard and her
 hair-pulling antics. Of course we all viewed the ridiculous and
 popular event as over-the-top choreography. While sipping beer and 
cheering, all I could think of was how much the wrestlers/performers
 have to rehearse their moves. The pounding and courageous flips off
 the ropes are quite exact. But then again, their floor, unlike ours, is
 very sprung. Jesse Stiles, our sound engineer who educated me about
 the difference between the good guys and the bad guys (Technicos and
 Rudos, respectively) turned to me at one point and said, “You guys
 should do more stuff like that.” Indeed! We all purchased the silly
 masks, but being a Rudo on the Cunningham stage while doing a triplet 
will most likely be an accident of some kind.

 

The Cunningham dancers... or are they?

 

Our four performances of Pond Way, MinEvent (arranged by Robert
 Swinston), and RainForest went off without a hitch. Especially touching were the local dance students waiting anxiously outside the theater for autographs and photos of the performers. We said goodbye at this venue to what we call "the fast dance". I can't count the number of times I've performed this section. It's the tried and true finale that we usually do at the end of Events. It ends with everyone facing the audience in lunges and open arms. It’s the closest Merce’s work comes to an audience pleaser. The movements are no less awkward, but the unison energy is unmatched.

 

After the final show we all dined at the lovely Cafe de Tacuba, with 
its old colonial Spanish-like tiles and exposed pottery. The salsa
 and tequila flowed, and celebratory antics continued afterwards at
 the hotel until the wee hours of the morning. It was an appropriately 
lively Mexican farewell. —Rashaun Mitchell