Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance

What is dance? - Documentaries about the greatest figures of American post-modern dance

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The movie is in English with no subtitles. The discussion after the movie will be in Hungarian.

Something has already started in the ’40s. Merce Cunningham seperated dance from music, used dice to make choreography, later introduced dance with computer. In the early 1960s, postmodern dance started with a burst of experimentation by a rag-tag group of rebels called Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. They broke with the expressionism of Martha Graham and the theme-and-variations structure of Doris Humphrey. They walked, they ran, they touched the earth and fell onto each other. They aligned with Minimalist artists and musicians in their wish to strip down to essentials—in fact, many of the musicians and artists made their own dances. They were all influenced by Merce Cunningham and John Cage, but developed their own styles.

„My goal in making the film was to create an intimate portrait of a working artist and a unique thinker. Cunningham is still, at age 82, questioning the way he looks at the world. I wanted to tell the story of Cunningham as a legendary dancer and an innovative choreographer developing ideas that revolutionized modern dance. I also wanted to provide glimpses of the playful side of Cunningham, his wry humor, the choreographer as showman.”- director Charles Atlas

Cunningham started his own dance company in 1953 and created hundreds of unique choreographic works. Defined by precision and complexity, Cunningham's dances combined intense physicality with intellectual rigor. He challenged traditional ideas of dance, such as the roles of the dancers and the audience, the limitations of the stage, and the relationships between movement and beauty. With composer John Cage, developed a radical new concept: music and dance could exist independently within the same performance. The dancers’ movements would no longer be tied to the rhythms, mood, and structure of music. Instead, all forms of art could stand alone, simply sharing a common space and time. One of Merce Cunningham’s most influential strategies was his use of chance and randomness as a creative tool. Throughout his career, he embraced technology in his work from early experiments with television and video to the use of computers, body sensors, and motion capture technology.

Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance
Director: Charles Atlas (2000)

Organised by Parallel Art Foundation
Coordinator: PINTÉR Gábor
Guests: PÉTER Petra - dance historian; SŐRÉS Zsolt - composer, sound artist
Partner: Merce Cunningham Trust
Supported by
© La Sept ARTE-INA-Thirteen/WNET New York-BBC-NPS-2000. Courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust.

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