Merce Cunningham’s Interscape at BAC Flicks

To watch Interscape (2000), a film of a dance by Merce Cunningham created by Charles Atlas, is to see the not-so-distant future of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  With a few notable exceptions to New York audiences (The Joyce Theater, the Park Avenue Armory), the company will give its final performances in December 2011 and then disband forever.  Watching this unrivaled group in films such as this one is our unwelcome fate.  Sure, we may be able to see the work, done well by other companies, but for me, it will never be the same.  The dancers are a huge part of what makes the experience wholly Cunningham.

Seeing the company in any historical rendition is like re-reading a chapter of the myths of Greek gods and goddesses.  There have been so many spectacular performers in its history – from only ten years ago we are again given the chance to see Daniel Squire, Holley Farmer, Cedric Andrieux, Jonah Bokaer, Lisa Boudreau, Jeanie Steele.  To see the film is to lament the past, but there are always so many incomparable dancers, no matter the decade – a recent performance in the New York premiere of Xover at the Fall for Dance Festival was a perfect moment to relish the rich present.

Recorded on stage in Brest, France, though not in live performance, the film mostly stays out of its own way.  Atlas sees his job here as documentarian and thus relies primarily on shots of the whole stage or of the full body, to the benefit of the choreography, and Robert Rauschenberg’s collage decor and vivid costumes.  On the dancers, however, this has a distancing effect – we don’t often have the possibility of seeing a more personal view.

The film was preceded by an episode of Mondays with Merce, Nancy Dalva’s captivating look at the guru himself. Hearing Mr. Cunningham speak is like listening to a sage – I feel like I want to ponder everything he says.  With unparalleled access to the rehearsal process, and the staging of his pioneering Event structure, Dalva illuminates Cunningham’s unique approach to space, movement and form.  He was such a quiet force.

I remember the deeply moving experience of watching Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event, screened as part of Performa 09, and there was something about Interscape (2000) that was less visceral and more removed, but this is no real cause for complaint – any chance to view these works is an opportunity to see a giant of modern art, up close.

Interscape (2000), A film by Charles Atlas
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Choreography by Merce Cunningham
Music by John Cage
Decor and costume design by Robert Rauschenberg
Lighting by Aaron Copp

Baryshnikov Arts Center
October 11, 2010

The BAC Flicks: Mondays with Merce series will continue with BIPED (1999) on November 15.

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