An astonishing feature-length film in which little seems to happen, and yet one watches in a kind of relaxed attention, oblivious to the passage of time. It just looks beautiful.
The 'event' isn't really a rehearsal: the dancers have already rehearsed, and choreographer Merce Cunningham is spending three days prior to performance locating the dance in the former Ford assembly plant, an enormous hall, glazed on three sides, right on the quay-side, separated from the sea only by the craneway, the iron tracks once used by the cranes. To the sides, the hills of San Fransisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Ships; a container vessel inches past, yachts breeze by. The floor of the hall is huge, probably three or four times bigger than any stage, and covered with a semi-reflective surface of dance mat. The folding doors at one corner of the hall must be 20 feet high.
Three days, the fresh clear light of morning giving way to the diffused warm glow of late afternoon sunshine. The dancers work through their sequences; their pacing and angle to the audience are changed a little by Merce Cunningham, wheel-chair bound after, he has said, too many years dancing on concrete. But he was 90 when the film was made and sadly he passed away during the editing. The film does have an elegaic quality. There's no music, just the sounds of the dancers on the floor, occasionally of boats and the sea. It's very quiet. The cameras never move; no pans, no zooms, just cuts from angle to angle, long takes, the visual style of film-maker Tacita Dean, who was invited by Cunningham to film the event, although she chose rather to film these final rehearsals since Cunningham himself was present.
In a way it's unfocussed, or rather the focus is on everything. It's certainly not a film about a dance performance as it doesn't show us clearly all the dancers' moves. It's not a film about Merce Cunningham, who is present throughout but not as a character in a film or documentary. Or rather it is all these, and more too: it's a film about the building, about the birds, the sea and the ships, the bridge, the city and above all the wonderful light. It's a wonderfully calm film. At the end of the third day, there's a long take, looking from end to end of the hall, against the warm blaze of the setting sun, the dancers little more than silhouettes, the vast building full of movement from end to end, the floor reflecting the light and the dancers. The final rehearsal finishes, there's a little laughter, voices and relaxed movement, and with that the film ends.
Details of the screenings are here. Three screenings a day Tuesday to Friday, and two on Saturday, until June 26. & it's free. (& if you click on that link, have a look at the line of dancers in profile. Que postura!)