Merce Cunningham can hardly move now—he’s 87—so in Charles Atlas’s marvelous 90-minute Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance he gets Mikhail Baryshnikov to demonstrate for him. How cool is that! This movie and Atlas’s 1986 Hail the New Puritan, an intimate look at Scottish bad-boy choreographer Michael Clark, highlight the Dance on Camera Festival’s 14 programs, most playing twice. Among other essential docs is Heather Lyn MacDonald’s Been Rich All My Life, about the careers of five aging African American women who worked as showgirls in Harlem clubs in the ’30s and still perform as the Silver Belles; MacDonald’s meandering ethnography is a moving portrait of early black feminists.
The two-hour drama Sringaram/Dance of Love, in Tamil with sketchy English subtitles, narrates the life of a temple dancer who refuses to be prostituted by her wealthy lover to a British official; she leaves and joins the revolutionary cell seeking to depose him. Ashton at 100: Fredís Steps, a long BBC doc, details the life and career of Frederick Ashton; another, Bringing Balanchine Back, tracks the New York City Ballet on a visit to St. Petersburg. The best job of reconceiving dance for film is by Belgium’s Wim Vandekeybus, whose marvelous Blush works even better on-screen than it did onstage, following a bunch of lubricious twentysomethings from a punk wedding to a funeral. And for utter pop indulgence, nothing beats Vincent Paterson’s reel, including videos for Bj Madonna, and Michael Jackson, a raft of commercials, and more.
Dance Films Association celebrates its 10th collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center by exploding out of the Walter Reade. In addition to shows at Film Society’s plush uptown digs, a dozen shorts screen at Galapagos this Sunday, and a panel of producers convenes Tuesday at the Donnell Library Center. Visit filmlinc.com and dancefilmsassn.org for full schedule details.