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TV Reviews : 'Cage / Cunningham' Honors Innovators

November 19, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL

The 50-year partnership between composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham redefined the possibilities for music and dance by questioning nearly all the basic assumptions about those arts. Elliot Caplan's 1991 film "Cage/Cunningham" honors their innovations by adopting many of their methods in its style and structure.

Showing twice Sunday on Bravo cable, Caplan's non-linear documentary juxtaposes intimate interview and historic archival footage, clips from home movies and excerpts from stage performances--and sometimes just fragments of sound and color. As the evidence accumulates over 96 minutes, a who's who of modern music and, particularly, painting drops in to chat about key creative issues and discoveries.

Cage talks about the influence of Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki and Cunningham the concepts of space common to Buddhism and scientific theory. Robert Rauschenberg discusses collaborations in which the choreographer, composer and designer went off and worked independently, so "nobody knew what anybody else was doing until it was too late."

Former company dancers from Viola Farber to Remy Charlip illuminate the physical challenges of Cunningham's pieces and even Rudolf Nureyev materializes long enough to make a statement about aging.

Cage died two years ago at 79, but the film celebrates all the new beginnings of his and Cunningham's career. It's fascinating moment by moment and never forces a grand historical overview down your throat.

You're free to consider modern art a sublime prank by the unlikeliest revolutionaries you could imagine. Or you can just bask in the warmth of reminiscences that give the film its sweetly personal tone.

After all, the last dance clip doesn't show some futuristic experiment but the balletic body-sculpture of "Septet" to music by Satie. Cage and Cunningham could always surprise you, and Caplan's film is no different.

* "Cage/Cunningham" airs at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday and at 3:35 p.m. Nov. 26 on Bravo cable.

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