Still of Dancers from Merce Cunningham Film

“Dancing is a spiritual exercise in a physical form” – Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham was considered one of the most influential and innovative modern dance choreographers. His work broke through the boundaries of classical dance and art. The documentary film Cunningham, by Alla Kovgan, invites the viewer to be mesmerized by watching a selection of Merce’s signature work spanning from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Choreography, Process, and Philosophy with Merce Cunningham

I know very little about dance and yet from the first moment, I could not take my eyes off the screen, observing every movement, following the unfolding spaces and taking in every sound. The film blends Merce’s original footage alongside new recreations of his most famous choreographies. The two are interwoven together to create a timeless feeling. Merce is known for creating chance principles, like coin flipping to determine movement sequences, and incorporating them into his choreography, thus allowing circumstances and the present moment into his work. These created a unique combination of movements and presented the dance world with something fresh and new.

Merce’s approach and philosophy to life are set forth through his own words as well as quotes from members of his dance company and collaborators. Some of Merce’s thoughtfully chosen words capture the essence of his perspective on dance, relationships, and life. “I don’t describe it, I do it” and “It isn’t about the money…it is about making something,” convey his emphasis on the doing itself rather than the future results. His words resonated within me while I was taken into a mesmerizing journey through movement, space, and sound.

Documentary Film Cunningham Poster

The Visual Experience of Pioneering Choreography

The use of 3D technology fits beautifully with the narrative and captures Merce’s pioneering choreography. This is a visual experience in which the viewer is surrounded by constant movement and change. For me, the peak of the experience was the recreation of the choreography RainForest, which incorporates artwork by Andy Warhol. Shiny silver pillows float freely in the air, dancers in nude color partly torn leotards and tights performing unconventional movements, and electronic nature sounds – all create a surreal experience. Each element is stunning on its own and brought together they blend into a unique visual experience.

Merce saw dance as a spiritual practice and the film portrays that fully and completely. I was left inspired to enable randomness into my life and practice the most challenging practice – focus on the doing while letting go of the attachment to future results.

Learn More about the Documentary Film Cunningham

Learn more about the film at: