The latest project from award-winning filmmaker Alla Kovgan, Cunningham chronicles the work of avant garde choreographer Merce Cunningham. Combining visually striking recreations of his dances with archival footage, the documentary offers an intriguing insight into the mind of an icon at the heart of modern dance. Although it is often captivating and rhythmically hypnotic experience, however, one’s enjoyment ultimately hinges upon how much interest one has in the subject.
Though the film is chronological in structure, its aim isn’t to give a dramatised or romanticised account of Cunningham’s life; rather it would be best described as an intriguing profile of the dancer’s artistic philosophies and ideologies. To accomplish this, the film is split into two categories: the archival footage of Cunningham and his company with recordings discussing thought processes, and recreations of dances which compliment what’s being discussed. While these thoughts will likely be of interest to those interested in art – especially sequences highlighting his collaborations with John Cage, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg –the dancing is given the greater focus, and herein lies the main problem with the film.
Ranging from the serene to the surreal, the dance sequences themselves are phenomenally shot with their own distinct style designed to emphasise what makes each dance unique (the documentary is also shot in 3D). Despite their artistic merit, however, many of these sequences go on for far too long. Consequently, this greatly interrupts the flow of the film, but – most of all – they don’t add much to the film insofar as they could be skipped without viewers missing anything. This is because the filmmaker does little in the way of inviting audiences to see what makes these dances worthy or why they should even care. In other words, someone with little interest in modern dance isn’t going to find any new appreciation of it here, which is a great shame given the film’s subject.
Like Cunningham’s dances, this documentary project is fluid, beautiful, and bursting with ideas that those with the right mindset will find fascinating. Given his influence in the art world, it’s only fitting that his legacy is immortalised in film. Unfortunately, however, Cunningham does little to show why we should care.
Cunningham is released in select cinemas on 13th March 2020.
Watch the trailer for Cunningham here: