Merce Cunningham 1919-2009
Robert Rauschenberg Collaborations: Suite for Five, Summerspace, Interscape (1999-2003)
"In 1954, Robert Rauschenberg became the Resident Designer to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a position he held for ten years. During that time these friends and collaborators, along with the musician John Cage, created some of the most iconoclastic artworks of the 20th century.

This three-DVD set showcases these great artists' work, along with the work of another, filmmaker Charles Atlas. The DVDs are accompanied by an illustrated essay by Bonnie Brooks.

Charles Atlas has directed and collaborated on over 35 film or video projects with Merce Cunningham and served as the company's filmmaker-in-residence for ten years (1974-1983).

The three films in this collection showcase Atlas's direction and editing of films and include the 2003 revival of Suite for Five, the 1999 revival of Summerspace, and the original cast of Interscape in 2000. Suite for Five (1956) is one of Cunningham's most enduring explorations of time and space.

Combined with Cage's chance-derived score and Rauschenberg's costumes and design, the work is a classic of the choreographer's repertoire. In Summerspace (1958) each creative element -- Morton Feldman's score, Rauschenberg's decor and costumes, and Cunningham's choreography -- were conceived and created independently of one another.
Despite this separation, the elements meld to give the audience an impression of a balmy summer day. Interscape (2000) explores the transitions between darkness and light, stillness and exertion, and silence and sound. A detailed and beautifully rendered work, Interscape showcases the essence of the artists Cage, Cunningham and Rauschenberg."
NTSC all region format.


Suite for Five (Total Running Time: 25:58)
Summerspace (Total Running Time: 22:05)
Interscape (Total Running Time: 47:05)

Included on this release (aptly entitled the Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Robert Rauschenberg Collaborations) are three separate films (Suite For Five, Summerspace, and Interscape). Merce Cunningham is an accomplished and famous dance company with a long and prosperous history. This release represents the combined efforts of filmmaker Charles Atlas and designer Robert Rauschenberg, who collaborated on each of these three unique audio-visual dance projects. The composer John Cage contributed scores for Suite For Five and Interscape. Fans of dance on film productions will find that there are many elements to enjoy within this release.

The bottom line, as I see it: This set should manage to appeal to newcomers and veteran dance aficionados alike by featuring an eclectic mix of experimental performance art. The combined run time of the three films is pretty short (less than two hours total), but that doesn't prevent it from feeling like an engaging experience from start to finish. Dedicated fans of these dance collaborations should be aware that some of these filmed performances are updated versions and not the original versions released in the 1950's.

Suite For Five Running Time: 25:58
Suite For Five (originally produced in 1956; now presented with the 2003 version) was perhaps my least favorite performance due to the minimalist nature of the production. The film felt particularly abstract beyond my expectations and it was an introspective journey with an aura of sadness to the dancing that wasn't quite fitting to my preferences. The dancing was still impressive. Apparently, this is one of the more famous collaborations.

Summerspace Running Time: 22:05
Summerspace (originally produced in 1958; now presented with the 1999 version) was probably the most impressive of the three films. The dancing was the most energetic and the stage design was colorful and reminded me of abstract paintings. Watching the dancers run across the stage to that kind of backdrop made it feel as though Atlas was splashing his ink across a canvas in a way that reflected a bizarrely emotional work that made me feel a wide range of emotions punctuated by true wonder.

Interscape Running Time: 47:05
Interscape, the last feature on this set, is the original 2000 version and it was a good way to round out the set. The stage design appeared to be more impressive technically than what was found on either of the other recordings and the superb dancing often felt downright passionate - breezily romantic and with a sense of wonder that was more fantastical than the other works highlighted on this release.

The DVD:

All three of the included films are presented in the original 1:85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic widescreen enhancement. The picture quality is rather mundane regardless, to say the least, and doesn't really spark a lot of interest in the visuals with the reproduction alone. I noticed a lot of jagged lines on all three films and it was occasionally a distraction from my experience. Colors were also pretty flat and not that impressive. Nothing really stood out about the video. Granted, the performances were still presentable but the overall quality of this set wasn't anywhere close to being an example of finely polished video. Given the fact that these films are so dramatically short (with a combined run time of only 97 minutes) it's a bit odd that these films were spread across three discs when the presentation quality doesn't seem impressive enough to warrant it.

The audio isn't anything to write home about. The musical scores composed by John Cage (Suite For Five, Interscape) and Morton Feldman (Summerspace) are decently reproduced with the audio. It's only a standard mix for each segment, no surround sound activity, and there is no dialogue featured at all. The audio definitely fails to feel dynamic but it does manage to get the job done fairly well for these basic technical recordings.

There are no video extras included on this box-set (which was a bit disappointing). I had been hoping for some behind the scenes material to help shed light on these works of performance art. Luckily, the set does include a rather informative booklet which includes a fascinating essay as well as pictures from earlier renditions of these performances.
Final Thoughts:
This is an interesting set which consists of three rather unique and accomplished dance performances. There is no story or narrative. These evocative performances should mostly appeal to fans of dance who find experimental works such as this fascinating and important to behold. This release will mesmerize those who are in tune with this art. Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.