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Nournimity: A test of the Merce Cunningham-John Cage approach to movement and sound on stage

Dance: This new work by Lucia Kilger, created with Lina Andonovska and Ria Rehfuss, values coexistence over second-to-second interaction


Project Arts Centre, Dublin

It was the choreographer Merce Cunningham and the composer John Cage who prised apart the interdependence of movement and sound on stage. Traditionally, choreographers commissioned composers to create music for their dance, the sounds following and matching the movement. In some cases the composer was little more than a technician, providing music in a particular style and emotion, and to a particular length, to match the choreographer’s needs.

Cage and Cunningham deliberately worked independently on their collaborations – the first time music and dance came together was often at the first performance. Their rationale was that both elements were stronger when created independently, neither being subservient to the other. Success was never in doubt. As Cunningham told The Irish Times in 2002, “Well, it’s like your daughter was getting married and was told that her wedding dress wouldn’t arrive until the day of the wedding ... but it’s a Dior!”

At the other extreme, some choreographers, most famously the American Mark Morris, seek to illustrate in movement the tiniest details in the music. This slavish mimicry is known, somewhat disparagingly, as Mickey Mouseing, where the qualities of the music and movement are in complete sync.

Nournimity is a new work by the composer Lucia Kilger, created with the flautist Lina Andonovska and the dancer Ria Rehfuss, that values coexistence over second-to-second interaction. Its stated aim might be to explore “liminal parameters intersecting sound, movement and performance”, but the artists don’t arrive with a collection of prebaked examples of how these elements correspond. Instead they take a more hands-off approach, allowing the intersections to naturally emerge on stage.


Rehfuss is centre stage; Andonovska is to the side, with her huge sculptural contrabass flute. There is no acknowledgment or eye contact throughout the 50 minutes, the two performers in separate areas and on seemingly parallel journeys. As lights slowly emerge at the very beginning, Rehfuss is squatting on the floor with her hands clasped behind her back. Her gnarled movements gradually raise her to a standing position as low, booming electronic sounds slowly crescendo, the overall feeling as if her body is acted upon by the music.

This dissipates as Andonovska enters, her breathy low flute bringing a calmness as the electronics morph to softer, bell-like and wind sounds. At other times the movement seems to act on the sound. When Rehfuss poses in a flowing white dress and a hoop with strips of white fabric, the image evokes an Isadora Duncan-like classicism that changes how one hears Andonovska’s pure long tones and rattly key clicks.

These coincidences, intentional or not, come and go as music and movement sometimes find themselves on a similar arc before drifting apart again. When Rehfuss leaves the stage the eye turns to Andonovska, her musicmaking always physically engaged and never in stand-and-deliver mode. She impressively utilises a broad range of extended contemporary techniques, such as slap-tonguing and multiphonics, while Rehfuss draws on her circus background in simple yet stunning sequences with spinning lights.

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a dance critic and musician