Program One: Assemblage

Part of Dances for Camera: Merce Cunningham, Nam June Paik, John Sanborn Film Series

Past event: streamed online June 1–30, 2021

Merce Cunningham with Richard Moore, Assemblage, 1968 (still); courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York, and the Merce Cunningham Trust

Merce Cunningham with Richard Moore, 1968, 59 min, color, sound, 16mm film on video
Using San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square as stage and backdrop, the recently rediscovered film Assemblage was created specifically for public television broadcast by Merce Cunningham and dancer, poet, and legendary KQED producer Richard Moore. Cunningham, one of the country’s preeminent contemporary dancers and choreographers, often collaborated across disciplines and worked regularly with composers such as John Cage, Gordon Mumma, and David Tudor.

Filmed over several days in October and November 1968, Assemblage captures the spirit of late-1960s San Francisco with nine dancers outfitted in pastel sweats, mini dresses, and go-go boots performing choreography and “movements” featuring yoga and pedestrian actions such as falling or using stairs. Cunningham and his collaborators found inspiration in the sounds of the Bay Area, from its seascapes, flora, and fauna, to the human-made din of trains, crowds, and construction in the city’s redeveloping neighborhoods. Assemblage was designed with the film format in mind; production notes describe camera angles and superimposing of images in post-production, and foreshadows Cunningham’s full embrace of performance for camera in the 1970s.

Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York, and the Merce Cunningham Trust.