“Merce’s legacy looms large over modern dance,” says Michelle Kranicke, artistic director of Zephyr Dance. “But he wasn’t infallible. ‘S45’ hopes to look at his work and legacy and through the reimagining of the collaborators, give younger practitioners a pathway in.”
Kranicke, along with her creative partner, architect David Sundry, and former Merce Cunningham Company member Paige Cunningham-Caldarella, have been considering the giant’s legacy since 2020, when they received permission from the Merce Cunningham Trust to restage his “Suite for Five” and use it as inspiration for new work. For “S45,” which runs October 19-22, Kranicke and Caldarella invited three choreographers to join them in taking a section of “Suite for Five” as a jumping-off point for a new dance: vogue-influenced Darrell Jones, former Limon company dancer Roxane D’Orléans Juste and butoh practitioner Kota Yamazaki. “Paige and I wanted to engage practitioners who have a longstanding practice within a specific aesthetic. Because they have been making work so long it has a deep history and foundation.”
Kranicke says she and Sundry were inspired by “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” an aptly named piece by artist Robert Rauschenberg. The young Rauschenberg gained permission to wipe out a thickly rendered drawing by then mid-career Willem de Kooning with several erasers and months of elbow grease. The resulting artwork—a near-blank piece of paper—makes a space for something new, but not an untouched one. Traces of the past remain; both artists are present. Staging “Suite” before the response pieces is intended to illuminate the strokes of Cunningham’s hand that show through.
“S45” is presented at SITE/less, Kranicke and Sundry’s industrial playground tucked between the Kennedy Expressway and Elston Avenue, on a dead-end block of Augusta Boulevard. SITE/less is an architectural oddity, full of expressionist angles, unexpected corners, and is notably stage-less; Zephyr performances take place anywhere and everywhere in the space.
This will be a first for Cunningham’s “Suite for Five,” which has only been performed on traditional proscenium stages since its premiere in 1956. Audience members can position themselves wherever they choose, up close and personal with dancers, sitting on makeshift arena seating or possibly parts of the set. Sundry reconfigured his formerly neon-green platforms that inhabit SITE/less along the paths of the dancers and repainted them to match the jewel tones of Robert Rauschenberg’s original costumes for the piece.
Kranicke says she hopes “S45” inspires a younger generation of artists to explore the work of past masters—to learn, borrow, steal and reject… with respect. “This project is a wonderful way to re-envision an historic work and help bring it into a contemporary conversation.”
“S45” at SITE/less, 1250 West Augusta, Thursday-Saturday, October 19-22 at 7:30pm. $25. Tickets at zephyrdance.com.