Writer/Director/Filmmaker Alla Kovgan was born in Moscow and now shares her expertise in working with dance on screen here in the U.S. and in Europe. Her most recent film CUNNINGHAM is a documentary best described as a 3D cinematic experience that allows us to share moments of the life and works of the late American modern dance legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham. The film spans the years between 1944 and 1972 weaving together Cunningham’s “philosophies and stories, creating a visceral journey into his innovative work. A breathtaking explosion of dance, music, and never-before-seen archival material”. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures, CUNNINGHAM opens on Friday December 13, 2019 at the Santa Monica Laemmle Royal located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd.
Kovgan’s became interested in dance after moving to the United States in 1996 and was intrigued with Cunningham’s interest in the film and technology advancements of his time which included his use of computer technology to choreograph new works during the years that he no longer danced due to advancing arthritis.
“I was drawn as much to the intricacies of Merce’s mind as much as I was to his tremendous talent as a dancer and choreographer,” the filmmaker says. “Everything he did was new, from his approach to making his dances to the philosophies that he followed in his everyday life. I was particularly moved by his spirit. During the years, we highlight in the film, 1942-1972, he made his dances against all odds. He was always ready to place himself in unfamiliar situations and find new solutions.”
Along with two other former Cunningham company members Holley Farmer and Kristy Santimyer-Melita, I attended a preview showing of CUNNINGHAM at the Wilshire Screening Room earlier this month. There is footage of the early collaborations between Cunningham, musician/composer John Cage and American painter and graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg, and beautiful scenes that include some of the founding members of the Cunningham Dance Company such as Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Marianne Preger-Simon and Steve Paxton. One sees members who I had the honor of sharing the stage with, Barbara Lloyd Dilly, Albert Reid, Sandra Neels, Gus Solomons, Jr., Meg Harper, Valda Setterfield, Mel Wong, and Susan Hayman-Chaffey. CUNNINGHAM is a film that anyone familiar with Merce Cunningham’s work or simply a dance enthusiast should not miss.
We get a glimpse of Cunningham rehearsing and performing. There are out-takes from interviews where Cunningham’s sharp wit and intelligence shine through; his answers helping the viewer better understand the man, his choreography and his philosophies on life. “I am a dancer. That’s sufficient for me.” “I simply decided years ago that I would make a dance free of music.” “Inside all of that is an ecstasy, brief, perhaps, not always released, but when it is, it is like a moment in balance when all things great and small coincide.” “Any movement is possible for dancing.” “You continue. It’s about making something.” – Merce Cunningham
Koygan has exquisitely woven together footage of the Cunningham company rehearsing and performing with those of more recent performances of Cunningham’s work that was in expert hands during the filming. The supervising Director of the Choreography was Robert Swinston whose career with the Cunningham company spanned 32 years. He became Assistant to Merce Cunningham in 1992 and following Cunningham’s death in 2009, he was named Director of Choreography and a Trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust. In 2020, Swinston will complete his tenure as Artistic Director of the Centre National de Dance Contemporaine in Angers, France.
The other Director of Choreographer was former Cunningham company member Jennifer Goggans who also acted as the Director of Choreography for the Cunningham Company’s final Legacy Tour announced in January 2010 and officially began on February 12, 2010 at the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, going on to include 152 performances comprising 57 engagements. The Legacy Tour concluded on December 31, 2011 at the Park Avenue Armory.
CUNNINGHAM was written, directed and edited by Alla Kovgan, produced by Helge Albers, Ilann Girard, and Alla Kovgan. A few of the other credits include: Director of Photography MKO Malkhasyan; Director of Stereography Joséphne Derobe; Archival Sequences Designer Mieke Ulfig; Costume Designer Jeffrey Wirsing; Original Music by Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka); and 3D Supervisor/Workflow Designer Sergio Ochoa.
The extraordinary dancers who performed the work designed for this film were former Cunningham company members Ashley Chen, Brandon Collwes, Dylan Crossman, Julie Cunningham, Jennifer Goggans, Lindsey Jones, Cori Kresge, Daniel Madoff, Rashaun Mitchell, Marcie Munnerlyn, Silas Riener, Glen Rumse, Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood.
CUNNINGHAM was released as part of the Merce Cunningham Centennial Celebration, but it is one that should last for decades and hopefully be included in public and university libraries and purchased by every dance department throughout the U.S.. Kovgan has created a beautiful tribute to the visionary choreographer Merce Cunningham, capturing treasured moments of his creative genius.
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures CUNNINGHAM opens on Friday December 13, 2019 at the Santa Monica Laemmle Royal located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. Check your local papers or online listings for showtimes.
“UTTERLY TRANSPORTING. A knockout. Radiates the rapturous power of dance.” The Hollywood Reporter
Featured image: A scene from CUNNINGHAM, a Magnolia Pictures release – ©Mko Malkshasyan – Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
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