Merce Cunningham's desire to have dance, music and design co-exist as separate partners in his work means that it is not unusual for one element to elbow out the others during performance. The dancers in Friday night's revival of How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965) thus seemed unfazed by the degree to which the audience were focused on the work's accompanying "score" - a string of stories written by John Cage - rather than their own energetic performances.
The main competitor for our attention was Cunningham himself, a frail dandy with an ineffable brand of showmanship. Along with David Vaughan, he narrated the stories from the side of the stage with immaculate, deadpan drollery. But almost as distracting was the wit of the texts. Cage's style sits somewhere between Gertrude Stein and Garrison Keillor, and his mix of quirky poetry, zen precepts and family history delivered more jokes in half an hour than dance fans usually get in a decade.
The choreography deserved serious attention, too - not only for the wit of its construction, but also for the light it shed on Cunningham's evolution. Wilful oddities of phrasing that might have jarred in the mid-1960s here seemed to radiate a shining, adventurous logic. They didn't look naive, but in comparison with the speed and density of Cunningham's current repertory, their simplicity and spirit were hugely beguiling.
Sound also dominated the staging of the two other works in the programme. In Way Station (2000), Takehisa Kosugi's marathon performance of his own electronic score, Trilogy, generated an abrasive accompaniment that was sometimes too harshly hyperactive for the choreography. However, the music did prevent the work from slipping into an overly pastoral mode. Unexpectedly pretty, with tender duets blossoming under sculptures that look like exotic, extraterrestrial flora, Way Station was pleasing to the eye. But its images yielded with passive ease to the power of the evening's middle work, Loose Time (2002).
Christian Wolff's music for Loose Time is an open weave of sound that seemed to develop sideways as well as forwards, in accordance with its own private logic. Within its spaces, Cunningham's choreography flourished like a live thing. There were resonating shapes, held and scattered; unpredictable gatherings; and, at the centre, a miracle of a solo for Holley Farmer. The images created by Cunningham raced through her body with the impersonal speed of digital technology, but also with the accidental beauty of shadows chasing sunlight.