If The Dancer Dances gives you an inside view of the remaking of Rainforest by Merce Cunningham, taught and passed on from former dancers of the Merce Cunningham dance company onto dancers from Stephen Petronio’s dance company. They have entirely different choreography styles. Asking even the best dancers to go from a style that is very stylistic and flowing to a style that is “the quintessence of stripped down abstraction”, as explained by former Merce Cunningham company dancer Gus Solomon, is asking a lot to say the least. And understanding this and then seeing the dancers through the process makes you wonder, can they do it? But that’s not what this film is about.
I think it takes you on the journey, as if you’re a silent member of the Stephen Petronio company watching everyone in the studio, and asking questions along the way.
Critique may be an essential part of the learning and refining process, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. What artist likes to be critiqued, and in front of others, and on film at that? And they make it look as easy as they make dancing look. The intimacy of the studio is understood when you see the nervousness of the teachers teaching, and the critiques given. And it was fascinating hearing about how exact choreography and style is taught. Stephen Petronio explains how it isn’t notated or taught by video and that “history and preservation has to happen skin to skin, breathe to breathe, body to body.” During a time where artificial intelligence, artificial food, artificial friends and ‘likes’ seem to dominate natural and human methods, it’s refreshing to see the humanity that dance not only requires, but emits and extracts.
I didn’t understand the title at first. And I’m not going to give it away. But you can take away your own interpretation after experiencing the dancer’s world and process when it’s revealed at the very end.