“If The Dancer Dances (Everything is Done)”

A Look at Stephen Petronio

Amos Lassen

“The beauty of dance is that it only exists in the moment. It goes into the air and then it disappears.” Choreographer Stephen Petronio has been teaching his own contemporary dance for thirty years. When his mentor, the legendary Merce Cunningham, passed away, he decides to reconstruct Cunningham’s iconic piece “Rainforest.” Petronio puts his dancers through intensive training of Cunningham’s dance technique, who find his focus on the isolation of individual movements both exciting and challenging. This is an intriguing documentary on what it takes to keep a masterpiece living. Petronio’s dancers explore the fine line between copying Cunningham’s moves to perfection and experiencing them for themselves – making it live physically for their generation. Dance is described as an art form that more than any other is lived in the moment in which it is experienced and leaves behind only its emotional resonance. A highlight of this film is its focus on movement to show how a legacy is kept in its performance. Providing rare rehearsal footage from world-famous dance instructors, we are guided through their physical and emotional progress towards the final performance.

Stephen Petronio has been creating innovative work for his own NY Dance company for over 30 years now.  In fact up until now they have only danced the pieces that he has made. Then  Petronio decided to mount a new production of one of his most iconic (and most intricate) dances of his mentor, Merce Cunningham’s “Rainforest”.

This new documentary by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler follows  the project from the very first days of rehearsal to the actual performances months later. We see the intricate details of re-creating a complicated masterpiece and become intrigued by the sheer intensity and the utmost respect that all the dancers hqave had for both Cunningham and his work.

Petronio puts the dancers through intensive training of Cunningham’s dance technique which are quite unlike anything they have ever experienced before. All of them find the focus on the isolation of individual movements both exciting and challenging. We also become aware of the fine line of merely copying the original moves and also  being allowed to somehow incorporate some of their own personality and spirit into it.

Watching the revival of “RainForest” slowly come together is quite an exhilarating and exhausting experience . It provides us all with such an opportunity to respect and admire not just Cunningham and Petronio, but all the talented artists who make their magnificent contemporary works come alive 

Directors  Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler capture the process of how to transfer works through generations of dancers and confront an urgent and essential question of the nature of this art form: how do we preserve these historical works as time goes on?

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