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A Chance Encounter

Jérôme Bel, Merce Cunningham, and Cédric Andrieux

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EVER WONDER WHAT IT TAKES to be a dancer? I mean besides an endless succession of classes and an endless diet of carrot sticks?

For the past five years, French choreographer Jérôme Bel has explored this question with a series that examines dance traditions through the ages. So far he's explored classical ballet, German expressionism, and traditional Thai Khon (Pichet Klunchun and Myself, a highlight of 2008's TBA Festival).

Now Bel tackles American modern dance with a new work, Cédric Andrieux, performed by the 33-year-old Andrieux himself, whom Bel chanced upon while traveling through the south of France.

One of contemporary dance's most lauded artists, Andrieux hails from Brest, France, but danced in New York City for more than eight years with the legendary Merce Cunningham Dance Company. That's what attracted Bel to him.

On a bare stage, Andrieux presents a visual autobiography, talking about his childhood, his ambitions, his doubts, and his pains. He intersperses stories with dance excerpts, including pieces choreographed by Bel and fellow Merce Cunningham protége Trisha Brown. But the greatest portion of the evening is devoted to Cunningham, one of America's most influential choreographers.

Cunningham created collaborative works with other 20th-century icons, including composer John Cage and visual artist Robert Rauschenberg. To choreograph, Cunningham often used the Chinese I Ching, a system of chance that predicts the future or illuminates the past. By tossing the coins of the I Ching, Cunningham created random patterns of arm, leg, and torso movements; often he wouldn't tell his dancers the actual sequence until the night of the performance.

Cunningham also led the way to non-linear dance, in which movement for movement's sake is more important than a narrative storyline. For Cunningham, the subject of dance was dance itself—so if you've ever sat befuddled through a dance performance and not understood what was going on, you have Cunningham to blame.

You also have Cunningham to thank for Cédric Andrieux. "The fact that the piece became what it is has to do with our personal interactions," Andreiux told me via phone from Lyon, "but it had nothing to do with why [Bel] approached me. It wasn't like he loved me as a dancer."

Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Fri Sept 10-Sun Sept 12, 8:30 pm, $20-25

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