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DVD Review: Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event

(Stephanie Berger/Park Avenue Armory)

(Stephanie Berger/Park Avenue Armory)

Article first published as DVD Review: Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event on Blogcritics.

The work of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham, who passed away in 2009, was well documented by videographer Charles Atlas. His work can be found on Microcinema’s three-disc set Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Robert Rauschenberg Collaborations. Atlas shot dancers in static, uninterrupted takes, and this theatrical simplicity captured sets and costumes in a controlled if somewhat clinical setting. In motion picture terms, Atlas’s work sometimes felt more like a document than art.

Perhaps a better tribute to an artist who threw the I Ching and thrived on serendipity is Microcinema’s release of the 3-DVD set Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event . The surviving company performed six pieces across three stages in the round in the Park Avenue Armory’s drill hall. The event took place in the days before New Year’s Eve 2011, and the resulting video captures the spectacle that rang out the old year and sent off one of the great choreographers.

The filmmakers convey the excitement of that performance by taking an approach far from the clinical work of Atlas. Two camera teams operating fourteen cameras filmed the event in a variety of angles, alternating distant views of the action appearing on all three stages, with close ups that focus on the featured dancers on a single stage. In other words, cinema.

The documentary begins with behind the scenes excitement: close-ups of the printed program, shots of taxis depositing attendees and moving away into an artfully blurred Manhattan nightscape. This approach reveals more of the art by sometimes looking away from it.

The first disc is an edited one-hour summation of the Park Avenue shows, but two generous bonus discs provide both single shot versions of each if the pieces performed as well as bonus repertory performances from the tour. These last include footage shot by Charles Atlas, which are a starkly academic contrast to the main event. These repertory excerpts include the challenging “CRWDSPCR,” a piece that demands a dynamic visual approach. The static camera that Atlas points at the dancers record the work but do not engage with it. I’m glad I have Atlas’s dance videos on my DVD shelf, but when I want to watch some Merce Cunningham, I’ll put on the Park Avenue Armory Event.

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The year in movies: 2012

Once Upon a time in Anatolia

Once Upon a time in Anatolia

I wrote full reviews of 70 current release films this year. Read my top ten list for DCist.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
The Amazing Spider-man
The Avengers
The Bay
Bernie
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Bigfoot County (Blogcritics)
Branded
Bully
Cabin in the Woods
The Campaign
Casa de mi Padre
Cloud Atlas
Compliance
The Dark Knight Rises
Dark Shadows
The Dictator
Django Unchained
Don’t stop believin’: Everyman’s Journey
Hitchcock
Hope springs
Hunger Games
The Hunter
The Imposter
I Wish
Jack Reacher
The Kid with a Bike
Killing them Softly
Klown (for Blogcritics)
The Lady
Lincoln
Little white lies
The Long Day Closes
Margaret
Marley
The Master
Mirror Mirror
Monsieur Lazhar
Moonrise Kingdom
Norwegian Wood
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Oslo, August 31
Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding
The Perks of Being a wallflower
Pina
Polisse
Prometheus
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
The Queen of Versailles
The Raid: Redemption
Rust and Bone
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Searching for Sugar Man
Seeking a friend for the end of the world
Skyfall
Sleepwalk with me
Step up revolution
Take this waltz
That’s My Boy
This is Not a Film
To Rome with Love
Total recall
The Turin Horse
Turn Me on, Dammit! and Snow White and the Huntsman
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
Two days in New York
Undefeated
We Need to Talk about Kevin
Whores’ Glory
The Words

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, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

I like you
I like you
You’re very nice

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just an old fashioned love song

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, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

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american legion hall, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

chosen for the DCist Exposed Photography Show!

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