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If The Dancer Dances, Seattle Film Premiere

April 11, 2019 - 7:00pm
Henry Art Gallery
Film Still: "If the Dancer Dances," by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler
Film Still: "If the Dancer Dances," by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler

As part of the international centennial celebration of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s legacy of iconoclasm, and in collaboration with the Merce Cunningham Trust, the dance departments of Cornish College of the Arts and the University of Washington present the fruits of a two-week immersion in Cunningham’s innovative and influential practices in chance operations. The residency honors the centenary of Cunningham’s birthday and acknowledges his formative training at Cornish, where he met composer John Cage and formed a partnership that has influenced generations.

Audiences are invited to the Seattle premiere of “If the Dancer Dances” (2018), a documentary by former MCDC company member Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler about the re-staging of Cunningham’s iconic RainForest (1968) on the Stephen Petronio Company. With limited distribution, this will be one of only a few chances to see this film on the big screen.

If a dance is not danced, it vanishes. If the Dancer Dances, a new documentary by former MCDC member Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler, confronts one of the most urgent issues facing the dance world today: how do we prevent the loss of masterworks to time? The film invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into Cunningham’s iconic RainForest (1968). With help from former MCDC members, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance—and a legacy—alive. If the Dancer Dances is the first documentary on Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.

“By focusing on the difficulties and challenges of this gestation period…this film makes both Cunningham’s and Petronio’s styles remarkably vivid. The leading Petronio dancer Gino Grenek, learning Cunningham’s own role without ever feeling at home in it, emerges with an exceptional nobility (he has such quiet authority that you see why Petronio was right to insist on casting him); and Petronio, so warm in his welcoming of Cunningham outsiders and in his encouragement of his own dancers to embrace alien stimuli, is the other hero of the movie. Toogood, a brilliant Cunningham dancer of his final years who joined the Petronio troupe for this season, speaks of Cunningham with memorable emotion; Davalois Fearon goes through a process similar to Grenek’s, finding it hard to find herself in Cunningham. Members of the original “RainForest” cast…speak vividly; Cunningham alumni involved in the staging—Meg Harper, Andrea Weber (who allows herself to be seen as almost comically over-perfectionist and anxious), Rashaun Mitchell—are vivid contributors. The title comes from a [Cunningham] quotation that appears at the end. ‘If the dancer dances, everything is there’...By the time it appears, you have been through such an arc of experience that you read these words with a large lump in your throat.” –Alastair MacCaulay, New York Times


This residency is part of the Cunningham Centennial celebration Community Programs, which are supported by a major grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. It is also supported by the Bossak Heilbron Foundation and the Floyd and Dolores Jones Endowed Chair in the Arts.