In the 60 years since he presented his first dance program with the late John Cage, Merce Cunningham has become the standard-bearer for the American modernist movement. He has famously valued chance and change in his work, and his recent use of a choreography computer program has only enhanced his spontaneous vision.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company's two-night visit includes three pieces the 84-year-old Cunningham designed with the help of software, plus one created the old-fashioned way. Friday's program opens with the autumnal Ground Level Overlay, which highlights upper-body motion; its dramatically insectlike companion, Biped, is enhanced with computer visuals. On Saturday the troupe performs the spry, flirty Interscape (scored by Cage and with a backdrop designed by artist Robert Rauschenberg), and then its local stop closes with the explosive Sounddance, one of Cunningham's early-'70s works for 10 dancers (with an electronic score by David Tudor).
See it all starting at 8 p.m. on Feb. 6 and 7 at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, on the UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $26-46; call (510) 642-9988 or visit www.calperfs.berkeley.edu.
-- Ron Nachmann
Before Snow Crash, before The Matrix, before stories of outsiders caught in the grips of corporate techno monsters were commonplace, William Gibson wrote a little book called Neuromancer. The 1984 novel, whose story line followed a computer cracker operating in a virtual realm called "cyberspace," wasn't especially far out for sci-fi literature -- after all, this is a genre that manages to contain both Marion Zimmer Bradley and Conan the Barbarian. But in an exquisite commingling of prescience and zeitgeist, Neuromancer turned out to be in perfect tune with its times. Two decades later, Gibson is credited with coining the term "cyberspace," with fostering the cyberpunk literary movement, and with being one of the first guys to realize what everyone else found out in the '90s -- that humanity and technology have never been so interdependent. In a rare public appearance, Gibson reads from his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition at 7 p.m. at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness (at Turk), S.F. Admission is free; call 441-6670 or visit www.bookstore.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
A Living Will
Gilman's early play limns teen angst
As one of this country's most produced modern playwrights, Rebecca Gilman focuses her work on the hot topics in society. Her recent plays -- some of which have premiered at the Magic Theatre -- have touched on covert racism, white-collar sexism, and infertility issues: skeletons in the closets of the upper middle class. But one of her early plays focuses on poverty-driven violence, and it makes her more modern subjects seem like cake.
The Glory of Living is about a 15-year-old girl, Lisa, who leaves her prostitute mom's trailer to run off with Cliff, a smooth-talking thug in his early 30s who gets her entangled in a series of horrific crimes. Having never known the value of her own life, the teenager is unable to value anyone else's. "When we read in the newspaper that somehow a kid has gone into a high school shooting people, we don't know how an innocent person could have done that," says director Bill English, who directs his daughter Lauren in the lead role, in a recent interview. "This play addresses that." Glory takes place over the course of three years, at the end of which Lisa is no longer a minor, but has still never been a child. When her own life is finally at stake, she doesn't fully understand what that means. "The 'glory of living' is a celebration of the wonder of creation," English adds. "But in this play, the 'glory' is nowhere to be found." Gilman's drama opens Friday at 8 p.m. at the Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $30; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.
-- Karen Macklin
Post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin created paintings of Tahitian island girls that earned him a place in the annals of modern art history, but his nonconformist (and arguably perverse) lifestyle earned him a controversial personal legacy. Culling the painter's words and work, Fred Curchack created a multimedia solo show to provide a better glimpse into the real picture. Stand in Gauguin's Shadow starting at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org.
-- Karen Macklin
Buck Stops Here
Mainstream country music has always had problems, like corniness, overproduction, and a lack of innovation. But then, it also has Buck Owens. The originator of the "Bakersfield sound" has the kind of voice that people who "like every kind of music but country" can enjoy. Red Meat and DJ Toby open at 9 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, S.F. Admission is $22; call 474-0365 or visit www.bimbos365club.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser