Merce Cunningham was arguably one of the greatest choreographers of all times. It is difficult to think of another choreographer whose sense of innovation, attention to detail in the movement of the human body and artistic vision parallels that of Cunningham. Not to mention the sheer body of work he left behind. At the time of his death Cunningham had choreographed nearly 200 works for his company.
In November 2008, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed an event in an empty port warehouse overlooking San Francisco Bay. The English visual artist Tacita Dean filmed the three days rehearsals leading to it.
The film is an extraordinary portrait of Merce. In a series of long still shots, we get a glimpse of the inner workings of the company. The camera sits quietly in the corners capturing the whole scene: the grand space, the natural light permeating through the big windows, the dancers moving intricately with the passing boats and the birds in the background, and Merce sitting in his chair observing, making sense of the vast amount of information spread over three stages, waiting to give short and precise notes to the dancers.
We left the projection room elated this afternoon. Cunningham’s sense of rhythm and structure and his particular version of unadulterated dance is something we relate to in our juggling.
Craneway Event, 2009. Frith Street Gallery, London. Until 23 June.