Coast Zone, a video-dance collaboration between Merce Cunningham and Charles Atlas, was shot in the vaulted Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The great spatial depth of the cathedral allows for the use of deep focus and camera mobility; dancers in the background are seen with equal clarity to those in the foreground. Extreme close-ups of dancers' faces contrast with the movement of those behind them to create a layering effect. Instead of presenting a "complete picture" of the dance, the camera moves gracefully and unobtrusively among the thirteen dancers, at one point circling the action one and a half times in a single, smooth trajectory; rarely does the camera shoot from a fixed position.
Exemplifying Cunningham's idea that dancers operate autonomously, Coast Zone's choreography mirrors the fragmentary nature of its filmic technique. Soloists move within and are traversed by ensembles of two or three dancers that break off from one another and then reassemble, bringing to mind shifting sands or the ebb and flow of a coastline that the title of the dance and its music evoke. Larry Austin's composition "Beachcombers" is performed by John Cage, Martin Kalve, Takehisa Kosugi and David Tudor, setting the dancers to metallic clangs and a voiceover that quietly repeats the word "discordance."
Choreography: Merce Cunningham. Directed by Charles Atlas. Music: Larry Austin, "Beachcombers." Artistic Advisor: Mark Lancaster. Produced by the Cunningham Dance Foundation.