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DCA Archive

Senior Citizen Kane: Cunningham 3D

Alla Kovgan

“We don’t interpret something; we do something,” declares modernist choreographer Merce Cunningham, his voice a constant presence in this documentary that bears his name. More than just a mantra the dance icon lived by, these words have also shaped Alla Kovgan’s immersive and enthralling debut feature.

“a visceral journey through the choreographer's world”

Cunningham traces Merce’s artistic evolution over three decades of risk and discovery from 1944-1972, from his early years as a struggling dancer in postwar New York to his emergence as one of the most visionary and influential choreographers in the world. Vibrant dance sequences are combined with archival footage that features Merce, composer John Cage (his partner in life as well as in creation), and their collaborator Robert Rauschenberg who designed costumes, sets, and lighting for such dances as Interscape, Summerspace, and Crises. Via voice recordings, we hear the choreographer’s philosophies – his determination to ignore labels and styles, his daring to challenge the status quo and his desire to simply focus on human bodies doing what they do – then see these ideas resonate in his work.

Working with Merce Cunningham Dance Company assistant director of choreography Jennifer Goggans, Kovgan revives 14 pieces in tunnels, rooftops, parks and more. Cinematographer Mko Malkhasyan’s rhythmic photography also has the same pulsating impact, weaving through, around and above the dancers. Comparisons with Pina are apt, as this film also uses 3D technology beautifully to weave together Merce's philosophies and stories, creating a visceral journey through the choreographer's world.