Assemblage is a recently rediscovered lost film featuring Merce Cunningham and his early dance company: Carolyn Brown, Sandra Neels, Valda Setterfield, Meg Harper, Susana Hayman-Chaffey, Jeff Slayton, Chase Robinson, and Mel Wong. A collaboration with director and former dancer Richard Moore, Assemblage features Cunningham dancing with his company in a public happening in San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square in November 1968. Cunningham's riveting performance--conceived from the beginning as a dance staged for the camera--is amplified by Moore's astonishing special effects and a soundtrack by John Cage, David Tudor and Gordon Mumma. Rediscovered after Cunningham's death, Assemblage was transferred from 16mm and colorized by artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas, himself a longtime collaborator of Cunningham's.
Assemblage presents a dance that unfolds across fractured space and inside shattered time. Produced for broadcast by San Francisco's public television station KQED, Assemblage is a film with two subjects: Merce Cunningham's dance company and Ghirardelli Square, one of the first of a new wave of gentrified urban environments where dilapidated markets or industrial sites were rehabilitated as mall-like retail districts. In an interview with San Francisco critic Robert Commanday, Cunningham explained his idea that "the finished film will deal not so much with dance in the narrow sense, but with various motions--boats moving, people walking, and, of course, groups dancing." On screen, Cunningham's dancers walk, frolic, and scramble through the shopping concourses and promenades of the square.
Cunningham and his company spent three weeks rehearsing and filming on location in fall 1968, creating what Moore described as "movement modules." From these sequences, Moore and film editor Bill Yahraus crafted a motion picture collage of overlapping movements and moments, which occur sometimes in fragmented film windows, sometimes within ingenious superimposed planes. To create the breathtaking hallucinatory collision of filmed dances, Moore used extensive optical illusion and process photography; dancers were filmed as silhouettes and superimposed on different backgrounds. In one extraordinary composited sequence, Cunningham's company becomes a miniaturized troupe of Lilliputian dancers, weaving in and out of the dancing legs of gigantic versions of themselves.
Assemblage serves as a testament to Cunningham's groundbreaking investigations of dance and movement within the virtual spaces of film.
Director: Richard Moore. A film by Richard Moore. Phillip Greene, Bill Yahraus, William Winant, Bernie Stoffer, Barbara Styman. Dancers: Merce Cunningham and Dance Company, with Carolyn Brown, Sandra Neels, Valda Setterfield, Meg Harper, Susana Hayman-Chaffey, Jeff Slayton, Chase Robinson, Mel Wong. Musicians: John Cage, David Tudor, Gordon Mumma. Special Assistants: Jean Rigg, Jim Baird, Rick Nelson. Special Effects Printing: W.A. Palmer Films, Inc. San Francisco. Producer: KQED-TV, Bay Area Educational Television, San Francisco. A production of the KQED Film Unit. Filmed on location at Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco. This production was made possible in part through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.