writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

A Festival of Dance Films from Around the World

Dance on Camera DC
[Presented by City Dance Ensemble, Dance Place and Dance Films Association]
Dance Place
Washington, DC
Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 10 May 2004

Dance on screen shouldn't try to be like dance on stage—when art is what you want, not documentation. City Dance's Paul Gordon Emerson chose 13 films that either couldn't be duplicated by live performances or would emerge substantially transformed. The closest to a stage experience was Bella Figura, Hans Hulcher's half hour film from 2000 of Netherlands Dance Theatre in Jiri Kylian choreography. It opened Saturday night's showing. Kylian's dances have an inherent cinematic aspect whether you watch them in the studio, on stage or on a screen.

Music for Kylian has become the background component it usually is in commercial story movies. It exists as an atmosphere or as something to be micky moused. Several composers' scores are used in Bella Figura, but one isn't acutely aware of differences except in short spans of no music. The choreography for what are obviously trained dancers has the effect of free association, of taking an improvisatory path. Key motions (such as the raised, lowered or touched shoulder) function like occasional signposts along the way and there is some repetition. However, as in other recent Kylian pieces, I couldn't detect development or structure. The nature of the movement is a combination of ballet and modern dance. It has ballet's articulation, its flexibility at the joints, but modern's earthy tensions. Kylian pulls this hybrid in a rather rubbery way, molding it into off-classroom shapes that have complexity and some novelty. He's best, though, dealing with a few bodies at a time. When there is anything resembling a corps, the arrangement in space becomes diagrammatic.

If you suspect that I don't care for Kylian dancing and choreography, you are correct. Other dance makers are able to build complexity into form, offer more originality even without hybridizing styles and show their dancers in other lights than that of modestly sensual executants.

Rosas Danst Rosas (Belgium 1997), at almost one hour's duration, was Friday night's feature film. Certainly the movement Anna Theresa De Keersmaeker made for her company of women can and has been performed on stage. The film, though, is more successful. That's due in part to cinematic continuity. The dancers seem to perform without breaks, so there is a cumulative effect and the choreographer allows us to see them tiring only towards the very end. Much of the footage is of highly emphatic motion that comes in modular phrases. One sees the phrases (or slight, minimalist variations on them) over and over again. Dancers deliver the movement in unison or in tightly staggered sequences. However, Thierry De May's direction and Michel Houssiau's camera show close-ups of single dancers that reveal the individuality within the choreography's discipline and regimentation. Direction and camera work also place Rosas in distinct space, illumination and aural environments.

The location is a large modern (glass, metal frame, brick) building. Its rooms, corridors and stairs are practically empty of objects. The dancers' movement and footsteps often echo, though at times they are hushed. Rain splatters on the windows, later sunlight reflects from the walls, yet the women's movement persists. At the end, when many more women than we've seen before run out of the building and scatter, we're uncertain whether they were directed to do this or, like children being let out of school, were simply released.

Degrees of uncertainty are De Keersmaeker's game. She makes us think as we watch, about what we are watching and how we process the information. The least uncertain thing is that Rosas is intentionally, specifically about women. It isn't accidentally all-female because, as sometimes happens, no male dancers were available. Yet one can wonder how the movement would look on men. One of the choreography's motifs, shoulder baring, is intensely gender specific. Not that it means just one thing done by women, but a man doing it would be much more ambiguous.

What is the essence of the women's movement? Isn't it more than merely emphatic and very disciplined, isn't it also self punishing? Is the location an abandoned building or just an empty one? Are the dancers aware when they are the focus of a close-up? Formulating such questions makes one take another look at the stark choreography with its reiterations. A further factor to keep the viewer going through this hour long endurance is the growing awareness one has of De Keersmaeker's increasing hunger for her movement patterns. She becomes an addict, and finally is it will or necessity that makes her let go?

Answers to questions (What is dance? Can it be isolated from its environment? At what cost?) came in Black Spring (France/Nigeria, 2003). We are shown powerful bodies in extreme states of stasis and movement. They can almost be abstracted from life, almost because there is always something that clings. In this film it is the gritty African ground. Then, though, we are shown the daily contexts for the motion, the dancing. It isn't subtle, this wider view, but it is without price—the cost involves entire lives. This short film (12 minutes) is a must see! Benoit Dervaux directed, Heddy Maalen choreographed, Compagnie Ivoire's dancers, headed by Simone Goris and Serge Anagondu, performed.

Two outright satires were Burnt (Germany, 1998, 15 minutes) and Rest in Peace (Netherlands, 2000, 7 minutes). Burnt is about an office hierarchy and Rest about a funeral. The office saga, by film maker Holger Gruss and choreographer Vera Sander, is heavy handed whereas the funeral and its aftermaths (directed by Annick Vroom, choreographed and performed by the Hans Hof Ensemble) becomes delightfully absurd. Funny minifilms were Konstantin Bronzit's The God (Russia, 2003), Anne Troake's Pretty Big Dig (Canada, 2001) and Shona McCullagh's Fly (New Zealand, 2002). God is about a fly that annoys a statue of an Indian deity with six arms; it has a very clever ending. Dig is a lyrical waltz for mechanical cranes. Fly is the story of Daedalus and Icarus retold humorously and poignantly in simple dance and sign language. Another item in this category was Le P'tit Bal (France, 2000), a gestural charade of the song "C' etait Bien" by Phillippe Decoufle, whose Tricodex had just been toured in America by the Lyon Opera Ballet. Watching Tricodex, I thought that Decoufle would make a better choreographer for movie cartoons than for the stage, but the 3 minutes of Bal seemed eight times as long. Not worth its time either was Maria Weiner's Dialogos (UK/Greece, 2002) a duet of 4 minutes for what is said to have been a live mover and his projected hologram.

A swimmer trying to make headway through desert sand using strokes meant for the water is the opening focus of Dust (UK, 1998). That strong, frustrating image is then diluted by symbolisms and hopes in a 8 minute film by director Anthony Atanasio and choreographer, performer Miriam King. Horses Never Lie (Canada, 2001) by Caroline Richardson and Kathi Prosser, left me with the impression of an able balletomodern soloist, Richardson, but little else.

Reprised from City Dance Ensemble's screenings at Visions Cinema a few months ago was Suitcase (USA, 2003), Vladimir Angelov's short story about a brief romance between an angel (Rasta Thomas) and a mortal woman (Tiffani Frost). The piece has since been performed on stage, and that version is preferred by those interested primarily in dance continuity—especially seeing Thomas's bravura displayed. Yet the camera's cuts can take the narrative back and forth in time, and can make bodies appear and disappear dramatically. The result in this case is more nuanced. Have you ever loved and lost someone you remember as seeming never to have been of this world?

Emerson, film maker Ludovic Jolivet (the projectionist for both evenings) and Dance Place's Carla Perlo hope that Dance on Camera DC will become an annual Washington festival for dance films.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 17
May 10, 2004

© 2004 George Jackson




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