With Cunningham, director Alla Kovgan has made a biographical documentary about deceased choreographer Merce Cunningham that, I believe, he would’ve been happy with. The tribute has been tailor-made to emulate his unique style of dance and movement; from the individual dance reenactments directed with precision by Jennifer Goggans to Kovgan’s tour of Cunningham’s career through curated interviews from performers he worked with in his dance company.
Cunningham is also presented in 3D, which may issue déjà vu for those who still remember 2011’s Oscar-nominated ode to dance Pina. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch the film this way, but I could see where the film would benefit from such technology. Kovgan’s filmmaking is made up of layers when the audience is whisked through Cunningham’s life, and Goggans’ staging has prominent visible depth.
Cunningham is faithful through entertaining factors, but it disappoints as an informative documentary. Walking away from the film, I was underwhelmed by the amount of backstory on the choreographer. Then again, it’s fairly clear that Alla Kovgan wanted to give viewers more of an experience rather than a history lesson. Even so, the documentary is missing a sense of importance in its delivery. The audience can see why Merce Cunningham would’ve been a visionary, but the context is too indistinguishable for us to understand his importance in an arts community.
I was reminded of another funky art project I caught in 2013 called NY Export: Opus Jazz, a film that also consisted of pure dance but lacked the same type of purpose. Just like with that film, I would still recommend Cunningham to dance enthusiasts (especially in 3D) nonetheless. Then again, it’s a film that only speaks to that niche crowd.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie