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from The New York Times

Jungle Gymnasts on a Farewell Tour

Rob Strong


HANOVER, N.H. — The border between wildness and civilization, anarchy and order, was something that perpetually intrigued the choreographer Merce Cunningham. When the curtain rises on his 1968 “RainForest,” we’re at once in a singularly Cunningham vision of feral behavior. Though the piece is famous for its décor of helium-filled silver pillows by Andy Warhol — six of which hang like a forest’s foliage while the rest are loosely scattered around the stage like undergrowth — they wouldn’t seem the least bit wild were it not for the behavior of the dancers.

Feet and hands move like paws; bodies crawl along the floor; heads nuzzle or butt or, as if sensing alarm signals, turn sharply or slowly. In one image that often causes laughs in the audience, a man softly shoves a supine woman with his head and she rolls like a log. In an even more striking image, a woman swings upside down from a man’s arm like a monkey on a branch.

Zoology and social anthropology were often inseparable for Cunningham, who choreographed many works known as “nature studies.” “RainForest,” he said, was partly inspired by “The Forest People,” the anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s account of his time living among a tribe of African Pygmies. Cunningham, however, loving ambiguity, also reminded people that he himself grew up in Washington State, near the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. In an interview with the choreographer Trisha Brown, he said, “The forest was my first art lesson.”

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Posted on July 11, 2011 by Editor

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