Dance on film is attracting new audiences world-wide. 3D and VR filmed dance are now also muscling in on the act. Wim Wenders award-winning 3D documentary on Pina Bausch was apparently the inspiration for director, Alla Kovgan, to start her years of struggle to realise her own 3D film on Merce Cunningham.
Although the 3D cinematic experience promised for CUNNINGHAM is not fully realised, the film offers a great deal in capturing the essence of the visionary choreographer. The sheer fun and deep pleasure in creation enjoyed by the feisty band of dance pioneers leaps out from the 16mm/35mm footage. There is also the sense of sadness as the original band moved over to allow younger dancers in and Merce moved up a position of seniority. A magical and transient moment in time, saved as a memory.
There is amazing archival material that shows a very human side as Cunningham and John Cage, his lifelong partner, struggle to shape their new art in the face of public animosity. Kovgan draws us into the early years of this pioneering group of likeminded artists sharing their poverty and their ideas.
The footage of Cunningham dancing, a mercurial, inwardly focused figure, is well worth the viewing. They tell so much about his honest endeavours to strip away all excess and simply be the dance. The reviews and public comments of the time reveal the mountain of prejudice they faced and their determination against the odds.
The modern footage, while superbly danced by top international performers, suffers from over production and is less impressive. The dancing in the park, on the rooftop or in elaborate interiors tends to distract rather than enhance. However, Summerspace (1958) is one piece that benefits from the film technique, becoming a thrilling artistic collaboration as dancers in spotted leotards are immersed in Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillistic landscape. Another film success are Andy Warhol’s helium-filled balloons that feature in Rainforest (1968) and that nearly overshadow the dance as their silver plumpness seems to move from the screen and into the auditorium
CUNNINGHAM has important documentary value and the producers may have felt that the use of 3D technology this would attract a wider public. It’s just unfortunate that, too often, the filming seems simply a screen overlay and something of a distraction from a most impressive documentary.
Produced by Dogwoof
Director and writer: Alla Kovgan
Running time: 95 minutes
Due for release in the UK: March 13, 2020
For more details, visit www.cunninghamfilm.co.uk
To watch the trailer, click here