Other dimensions

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener in conversation on the choreography of Merce Cunningham

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener (costumes by George Venson/Voutsa) at their Arranged for Today Cunningham: Moving From Then To Now Judson Memorial Church tech rehearsal
Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener (costumes by George Venson/Voutsa) at their Arranged for Today Cunningham: Moving From Then To Now Judson Memorial Church tech rehearsal Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Cunningham: Moving From Then To Now tech rehearsal at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South, Associate Minister Micah Bucey arranged an introduction for Ed Bahlman and myself with Movement Research Artistic Director Barbara Bryan, who was co-presenting the free event with Judson Arts. Barbara in turn brought over the choreography team of Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, who were presenting their latest dance, titled Arranged for Today, created and performed by Stanley Gambucci, Eleanor Hullihan, Mitchell, and Riener.

Cunningham: Moving From Then To Now tech rehearsal
Cunningham: Moving From Then To Now tech rehearsal Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Mitchell and Riener (along with Ashley Chen, Brandon Collwes, Dylan Crossman, Julie Cunningham, Jennifer Goggans, Lindsey Jones, Cori Kresge, Daniel Madoff, Marcie Munnerlyn, Glen Rumse, Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood) are featured in Alla Kovgan’s enticing Cunningham. Wim Wenders, who loved Kovgan’s film and worked in 3D himself with Joséphine Derobe on his Pina Bausch documentary, Pina, wrote to me that “finally, somebody took that language and ran with it!”

Anne-Katrin Titze: Congratulations! You are both fantastic in Cunningham! How is it seeing yourself in 3D?

Silas Riener: I mean, it's awful! Every possible imperfection that you see in the real world is preserved in this amazing … No, I'm being a little bit funny about it.

AKT: It's understandable if the first look goes to "Oh, no" territory.

SR: The first time I see it, of course, I just see all the things I wish were better about myself. But actually I think that the world that the film creates is so expansive and it really puts people in these places, that what you start to see is a sense of space.

Silas Riener on Alla Kovgan’s Cunningham: “She added her own perspective on how that translates into the language of cinema, as she calls it.”
Silas Riener on Alla Kovgan’s Cunningham: “She added her own perspective on how that translates into the language of cinema, as she calls it.”

AKT: Which spaces were you located in?

SR: Let's see, there's like a plaza scene that I'm thinking of.

AKT: In Germany?

SR: Yes, all in Germany. There's one scene we did on a soundstage with a mirrored floor, which kind of has this quality of putting you in outer space a little bit.

AKT: What about you?

Rashaun Mitchell: My experience of seeing myself in 3D?

AKT: Yes.

RM: What's interesting is that we actually made a 3D film a year before this film, so we are very familiar with how 3D works and the tricks of the trade. So I felt like I wasn't a novice viewer, which was nice. But, you know, there's just an incredible amount of responsibility in performing this kind of work.

AKT: The Cunningham legacy.

Cunningham poster - Film at Lincoln Center
Cunningham poster - Film at Lincoln Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

RM: The legacy and all of the different iterations of the different people who've done it throughout time. And to now have it captured in such a way that hopefully will reach a lot of people is exciting, it's nerve-wracking, it's ambitious. But we had a great time doing it.

AKT: Do you think the combination of 3D and Cunningham is perfect?

RM: Cunningham doesn't need 3D, he already is in 3D. In a lot of ways his choreography very much registers as moving into other dimensions. And it's very full and complex. I don't think it needs 3D, but I like to think of a film as its own. Alla [Kovgan] talks about it, too, this cinematic language she was trying to arrive at in the film. It's easier for me to think of it that way. Because otherwise I just think, this isn't how the dance was. You know, the way things got arranged is different than how we know it to be. So I had to suspend my own understanding of what the choreography was.

AKT: Cinema enters into the picture of dance.

RM: Exactly.

AKT: I did an interview feature with Alla and sent it to Wim Wenders and his response was something like, finally somebody goes for it with 3D.

SR: Merce's work, you know, there's so much specificity with space and the way that he's arranging his choreography that thinks a lot about space. So to translate that into 3D for me is like a no-brainer. But what Alla has done is she added her own perspective on how that translates into the language of cinema, as she calls it.

AKT (to Rashaun): Which are the segments you are in?

Cunningham screens at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Cunningham screens at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

RM: I was in a piece called Crises, which took place in an old ballroom. There was a lot of latticed architecture. And Antic Meet, which was the one with the chair on the back.

AKT: Which is great.

RM: Use of props in that one, so humour in that. And also the one on the soundstage.

SR&RM: RainForest and Second Hand.

SR: And I was also in Antic Meet and Changeling, the one in the courtyard.

Ed Bahlman: Which was the one on top of Westbeth?

SR: Winterbranch is on a rooftop. But that's in Germany, actually.

RW: And there is one on the rooftop at Westbeth but we weren't in that.

Read what Alla Kovgan had to say on Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Rei Kawakubo, John Cage, Carolyn Brown, Hauschka, and the 3D for Cunningham.

  • Cunningham is currently streaming on Curzon Home Cinema in the UK
  • Read parts one and two of our conversation with Alla Kovgan

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