Review | ‘Cunningham’

Engaging Doc on Modern Dance Icon Merce Cunningham

Early in this engaging documentary on modern dance icon Merce Cunningham (1919-2009), the subject asserts, “I never was interested in dancing that referred to a mood or a feeling, or, in a sense, expressed the music. Dancing does not refer: it is what it is. It’s that whole visual experience.” Wisely, writer-director Alla Kovgan’s film is a consciously visual experience, in addition to attending to documentary duties. Blissfully narration-free, the film lavishes us with archival footage between 1942-72, in black and white and artfully shot current film clips, and generous new dance sequences. Relying on old interviews, stills, and other evidences of an innovative artistic life fully lived — with collaborators including artists Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol — the film moves in a choreographic way, avoiding objective documentary formulae. It also comes fittingly lined with bracing modern music from longtime ally John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Conlon Nancarrow. Cunningham spoke of his commitment to his art as “a question of faith and a continuous belief in the surprise of the instant.” A wealth of inspired instants is contained herein. 


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