Skip to Content
August Pace: 1989-2019 cover image

August Pace: 1989-2019 2023

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Patricia Lent and Kenneth Tabachnick
Directed by Daniel Madoff
Streaming, 54 mins

College - General Adult

Date Entered: 06/14/2023

Reviewed by lorraine wochna, Performing Arts Librarian, African American Studies/Literature, Ohio University

Merce Cunningham, is one of the most important American choreographers of the 20th century; after dancing with the Martha Graham Company, he started his own company in 1953. There is quite a bit of material you can find on Merce Cunningham’s work, and much of his legacy is available from the website for the Merce Cunningham Trust. His influence on dance, art, music, and technology runs the gamut from experimental music with John Cage, to developing choreography by the roll of the dice. He was a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and filmmaker--always looking toward new innovations and pushing boundaries.

August Pace was originally developed in August of 1989 consisting “of a series of seven duets, determined by chance procedures deciding when the two dancers would or would not come together during their dances.” (Merce Cunningham Trust). Each dancer was given a different piece of choreography, and though they are a duet, each had their own choreography. From this process, the pieces were developed.

Briefly, Cunningham’s style was rigorous and demanding; he asked his dancers to take risks and be open to new forms and try new ways of creating dance and movement.

In this documentary, original cast members of the 1989 company work together with new members of the company to recreate August Pace, each dancer is mentored by an original member. The camera is placed in the room, and though it is not static, it is candidly recording the rehearsals, creating a ‘fly on the wall’ experience for the viewer. We watch the new dancers, humbled and excited to be working with the original dance company, but their anxiety, and frustration at learning the dances is palpable; they are working with the original dancers and that can be daunting. We move to the original members, excited to recreate this piece with all these new dancers, but we can also feel their frustration -- as many of them haven’t danced in years, especially this piece. Many of them are no longer dancers or have injuries or limitations that keep them from fully performing; all members of the original team are very honest about their experiences working on this piece, both as originators of the pieces and as teachers of a new generation.

The film is not entirely observational, there is snippets of the Q&A session with the original members that runs throughout the film adding another layer, just as candid, but more directional.

Capturing the creative process on camera is not a new thing, there are many dance documentaries. What makes this special is the setup of the old guard mentoring the new and how they work through challenges collaboratively, sharing their experiences and working through the process.

This documentary is best for any dance program but would also serve well to any of the performing arts.

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.