RiverRun Arts to Present Free Screening of “If the Dancer Dances”
WINSTON-SALEM, NC (JUNE 12, 2019)—A new year-round initiative of the RiverRun International Film Festival called RiverRun Arts will showcase films about the performing and visual arts. The first presentation of RiverRun Arts is a free screening of the documentary “If the Dancer Dances” June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the UNCSA Main Theatre. The evening will include a special introduction by UNCSA Associate Dean of Dance Brenda Daniels.
The public is encouraged to arrive early for the screening, which will include 160 UNCSA summer dance students in attendance at the 280-seat theatre. The screening of “If the Dancer Dances” is made possible through the generous support of Lynn and Barry Eisenberg and Jane and Redge Hanes.
“If the Dancer Dances” invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into “RainForest” (1968), an iconic work by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham, who formed his dance company while teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. With help from three of the former Cunningham company, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance—and a legacy—alive. Timed to coincide with Cunningham’s centennial, “If the Dancer Dances” is the first documentary on the subject of Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.
Mikhail Baryshnikov said, “The dance studio is a private and mysterious place. After all, it’s where great works of choreography are created and kept alive. “If the Dancer Dances” grants us rare access, bringing us into the studio to watch the staging of a Merce Cunningham masterwork by the Stephen Petronio Company. It’s the tracking of this intimate process, a dance being passed from one body to another, that makes this film a great gift.”
With a run-time of 83 minutes, “If the Dancer Dances” was the selected as the official selection of Dance on Camera Festival in 2018 and the Rain Dance Film Festival, also in 2018. “If the Dancer Dances” was directed by Maia Wechsler who also produced the film along with Lisa Friedman.
ABOUT MERCE CUNNINGHAM
Born in Centralia, Washington, on April 16, 1919, Cunningham began dancing at a young age. At the Cornish School he first encountered the work of Martha Graham, who would later invite him to join her company in New York; Cunningham had a six-year tenure as a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company. It was also at Cornish that Cunningham first met John Cage, who would become the greatest influence on his practice, his closest collaborator, and his life partner until Cage’s death in 1992. The first show that included only Cunningham dances, a series of six solos with music by Cage, took place in 1944.
Four years later, Cunningham and Cage began a relationship with the famed experimental institution Black Mountain College, where, in 1952, Cunningham, along with Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, M.C. Richards, and Charles Olson, joined Cage in creating what is often considered the first “Happening.” Also at Black Mountain, in 1953, Cunningham first formed a dance company to explore his convention-breaking ideas.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (originally called Merce Cunningham and Dance Company) would remain in continuous operation until 2011, with Cunningham as Artistic
Director until his death in 2009. In 1971, Cunningham and his company became original tenants in Westbeth Artist Housing, remaining in residence there, along with his studio and school, until the company’s dissolution. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed 190 dances and more than 700 “Events.”
An active choreographer and mentor to the arts world until his death at the age of 90, Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). He also received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2009, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2005, the British Laurence Olivier Award in 1985, and he was named Officier of the Légion d’honneur in France in 2004. Cunningham’s life and artistic vision have been the subject of several books and numerous major exhibitions, and his dances have been performed by groups including the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, the Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballett am Rhein, and London’s Rambert, to name a few. Cunningham died in his New York City home on July 26, 2009.
Founded in 1998, the RiverRun International Film Festival is a non-profit cultural organization dedicated to the role of cinema as a conduit of powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints. Year-round programs include the Indie Lens Pop-Up Documentary Series, RiverRun Retro and Films With Class educational programs. Each spring, RiverRun’s Festival screens new narrative, documentary, short, student and animated films, offering both audience and jury prizes in competition categories. The 2020 RiverRun International Film Festival will take place March 26–April 5 with screenings in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
The sponsors of the RiverRun International Film Festival help sustain the organization’s mission to foster a greater appreciation of cinema and a deeper understanding of the many people, cultures and perspectives of our world through regular interaction with great films and filmmakers. The 2018 sponsors include: Title Sponsors – Reynolds American, The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and UNCSA; Presenting Sponsors – American Airlines, City of Winston-Salem, The Millennium Fund, Wake Forest University, Wells Fargo, Elephant in the Room and MullenLowe; Marquee Sponsors – Nelson Mullins, Forsyth County, Parkway Lincoln, PNC Bank, Salem Smiles Orthodontics, Visit Winston-Salem and Kilpatrick Townsend.