Elliot Caplan's 1996 CRWDSPCR documents the rehearsal and production of Merce Cunningham's dance of the same title, which was commissioned for the stage by the American Dance Festival and first performed in Durham, North Carolina, on July 15, 1993. In addition to documenting daily activity at the Cunningham Dance Studio while rehearsal is in progress, the film features Cunningham working at his computer using the choreographic software program LifeForms, as well as interviews with composer John King and costume designer Mark Lancaster about their process of designing for the dance, and company dancers discussing what it is like to learn movement generated by the computer.
In program notes to a performance of CRWDSPCR, Cunningham suggested the vowel-less title, pronounced either "crowd spacer" or "crowds pacer," referred to the way in which technology both crowded space and quickened the pace of daily life. It exemplifies Cunningham's use of the choreographic software program LifeForms (now known as DanceForms). LifeForms represents the human body as a series of concentric circles. Its user can simultaneously dictate and notate a wide variety of choreographic variables. The computer screen, divided into squares like a checkerboard, becomes a virtual stage that can be electronically tilted or rotated so that genderless, wire-frame figures can be viewed from any number of perspectives.
Caplan's documentary opens with a screen shot of the LifeForms program interface. The opening sequence moves among shots of dancers in Cunningham's Westbeth Studio, LifeForms' black background, and moving wire-frame figures. The piece features studio footage of the company rehearsing CRWDSPCR under Cunningham's watchful gaze. The Dobro guitar and electronic sounds of composer John King's blues '99, commissioned for the piece in honor of John Cage, pulse over the dancers as they move in and out of sight, group together, disband and climb onto each other. In candid interviews, Cunningham's dancers speak to the precision needed to carry out computer-generated phrases at the required speed.
At age seventy, Cunningham became the first choreographer of international renown to create work in dialogue with software technologies, when he was forced to explore the limitations that severe arthritis imposed upon his own freedom of movement. Cunningham's use of the computer has been described as an extension of his interest in integrating vernacular movement into the context of the dance. In CRWDSPCR, dancers aim at exact angles with their arms and feet, changing phrases quickly and methodically, as though transitioning from one keyframe to the next. These movements seem directly influenced by the shapes and rhythms of the LifeForms figures. In a 1994 essay, Cunningham writes of his 1989 introduction to a dance computer as the fourth in a series of "Events That Have Led To Large Discoveries," prompting historians such as Roger Copeland to describe Cunningham's use of LifeForms as a logical extension of the collage aesthetic that animates much of his earlier work.