Jaqlin Medlock and Nicholas Sciscione in If The Dancer Dances (Monument Releasing)
The West Village in the 1950’s was an electric synergy of artistic experimentation and creative possibility. And few that took that and ran with it more convincingly than Merce Cunningham, the legendary forefather of New York’s – and then the world’s – modern dance scene. And on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, a riveting new documentary, If The Dancer Dances, fittingly celebrates his unparalleled genius.
He countered traditional ballet, where story and emotion moved the scene, and instead relied on non-representational movement. Visual artists Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg all collaborated on set design and costume creation, which often gave the pieces an eerie yet organic urgency. His influence is still felt today, and he collaborated later in life with the likes of Radiohead and Sigur Ros. (He passed away in 2009, aged 90.)
A stunning tribute, If The Dancer Dances follows the New York based Stephen Petronio Dance Company as they learn the choreography to Merce’s groundbreaking 1968 piece “RainForest.” The goal is to ready it to be performed in 2015, just four years before the 100th anniversary of his birth on April 16, 2019. Directed by Maia Wechsler, it absorbs the viewer in all the tension, determination and excitement leading up to The Centennial, which was to be celebrated in New York, Los Angeles and London, with performances, installations and films.
If The Dancer Dances (Monument Releasing)
The doc is a startling reminder of how his challenging work is as relevant now as it was 50 years ago. Defying all that came before, in this depiction of Merce’s creative ethos, bodies are left to interact with one another, and music is only added after.
Ultimately, the dancer is revealed to be the most important component, and we watch as the history of the piece is preserved, “skin to skin and body to body.”
As Merce himself said it so perfectly, “If the dancer dances, everything is there.”