Archive for the ‘theory/criticism’ Category
Written by John Hoobyar, Pentacle staff member
Kinetic Cinema kicked off its fall season on October 10th with “The Take Away Dance” showing new films by Derrick Belcham. Derrick is a master of the improvisatory filming style of La Blogothèque’s “Take Away Shows” that feature indie musicians performing in unconventional spaces. After four years making “Take Away Shows,” Derrick recently began filming dance performances in the same vein, using nuanced camera movements and minimal editing. For Kinetic Cinema he showed eight of his recent dance films, six of which were shot less than a month ago.
Derrick’s camerawork has an agency rarely seen in dance films. Moving around the space, his camera may stray from one dancer to another, notice other objects in the scene, or only capture the dancer’s feet, mimicking a live spectator’s wandering eye. Instead of passively capturing the dancer on film, the moving camera becomes integral to the choreography of the film itself. Often made in one or two takes, the films convey the risks and chances taken by the performers by showing their motions in real time, mishaps and all.
Still new to dance, Derrick’s work hones in on the personalities of the dancers and their specific movements rather than the overall composition of the dances. Unlike in musical “Take Away Shows,” in which bands play set songs, the dancers in most of these films are improvising. This lack of structure, combined with Derrick’s infinite interest in the movements the dancers were doing, resulted in a few films that were too long. The endings seemed to come when he felt he had seen enough movement rather than when a compositional conclusion was found.
In La Blogothèque’s “Take Away Shows” we often get to hear the chit chat and commentary of musicians before and after they perform. These behind-the-scenes moments allow viewers to see their favorite artists as people they can relate to. Derrick chose not to include these “back-stage” narratives in his dance films – reinforcing the “otherness” of the dancers (and of dance in general). While these films may bring dance to new audiences, they arguably miss an opportunity to make dance feel accessible to people unfamiliar with the art form.
I will be curious to see how Derrick’s dance film work develops. Specifically, I look forward to seeing if he addresses these issues of composition and accessibility as he gains a deeper understanding of dance. With his appreciation of dance and his craft as a filmmaker, I imagine we will be seeing much more from this inspired artist.
Noemie Lafrance, a notable dance filmmaker with a Grammy nomination and a Bessie award, constructed, disseminated, and played many games with her audience, the players of “Choreography for Audience- Take One.” Once I bought my ticket, I was assigned to team Green (I could have been Blue, Black, or Tan) and informed to come dressed in green from head to toe. Instructions were also attached that I reviewed before the show on Saturday. What I had anticipated to be simple one-part rules turned out to be a series of 12 games with multi-part, algorithmic derived instructions that considered the space, the relationships between players, the sequence of events, and unpredictable interruptions. I figured simpler instructions would guarantee clearer results and would better showcase the intended patterns- the choreography for the audience- so I was surprised to see such complexity!
To my relief, the first hour and a half was spent reviewing the rules with Team Captains and Team Leaders and was followed by a demonstration and brief practice. I felt a bit impatient to start and overwhelmed by various points of direction- our cheat sheets, the leaders, the TV monitor displaying the different games, and Lafrance commanding from the balcony.
Once the game started, the excitement was palpable. Some of the rules were broken, but it seemed more important that we kept moving and enjoyed ourselves. Eventually, I even worked up a sweat! Running back and forth through the taped grid on the floor while repeating movement vocabulary until all 200 players caught on required physical exertion. Although I did feel more like a player not a performer because of the game structure and the incentive to score points, I found myself in a recognizable environment, that of a staged performance. And at the end, I felt the post-performance adrenaline experience I encounter as a dancer. Only twice during the performance did I step out to watch from the balcony. After our 15 minute intermission, which felt more like a water break, I noticed more players stayed out of the game to watch. Lafrance encouraged this, partly because this opened the space opened and made the patterns more visible.
To remind you, this performance was the set for a film. In total, I counted four cameras. One moved between the balcony and performance space, another was overhead, rigged with the lights, a third strapped to a player’s chest, and the fourth was at times inside the grid. At this point, I’d like to suggest, that the audience played more than the role of subject in the filmmaking process. In the case of “Choreography for Audience- Take One,” we, the audience, wrote the script. Our choices as players, be they random, established a sequence of events. In other words, by merely playing the games set forth by Lafrance, we drafted the storyboard.
Once, I stood behind one of the cameramen to see the performance from his perspective. He was zoomed in quite tight following one player. This particular vantage point dissolved the teams. The player appeared as one of many bodies moving in disordered space. Lafrance’s work pays meticulous attention dance and camera choreography, fitting them together like a puzzle (see DESCENT and 1, 2, 3, 4). Given that she entrusted 200 people playing a game with the task of storyboarding her film, I’m looking forward to seeing how she organizes the randomness of “Choreographer for Audience-Take One” in the editing room.
Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image, is now available through Oxford University Press. Written by artist, scholar, and pioneer in screendance, Douglas Rosenberg, the book has been praised as “a must-read for practitioners and theorists alike” and “a window to the complexities of discourses in Screendance.” The practice of dance and the technologies of representation has excited artists since the advent of film. Screendance weaves together theory from art and dance as well as appropriate historical reference material to propose a new theory of screendance, one that frames it within the discourse of post-modern art practice. Screendance is accompanied by a companion website featuring additional illustrations. Available now through Oxford University Press, Amazon.com, www.bn.com, or your local bookstore.
Filmmaker Amy Ruhl is fascinated by the body in film, particularly when it becomes mutated, dismembered or perverted by the cinematic medium. For her Kinetic Cinema program presented this past Monday at Uniondocs in Brooklyn, she focused on the rich history of the female body in film, especially that most intriguing of female archetypes, the femme fatale.
In her first short film, “How Mata Hari Lost Her Head and Found Her Body” Ruhl reimagines the famous courtesan and spy as if she lived her life the way it ended (by execution with her body donated to science and her head put on display at the Musée d’Anatomie). Ruhl’s Mata Hari is quite literally a person split in her allegiances – between mind and body, warring countries, sexualities, high and low art. There was no reconciling her contradictions, and in trying to have everything both ways, she enraged the very public she was trying to seduce and was destroyed.
The 2nd issue of The International Journal of Screendance-Scaffolding the Medium is now available.
Scaffolding the Medium brings together a variety of historical texts within the context of screendance to both create a common knowledge base and also to support a kind of cantilevered interest. This issue opens with an edited transcript of a presentation by Professor Ian Christie in which Christie surveys a history of cinema under the title The Cinema Has Not Yet Been Invented. This transcript is followed by five curated discussions on this initial idea as it relates to contemporary screendance.
Edited by Douglas Rosenberg and Claudia Kappenberg, this issue also features a report on the recent Screendance Symposium in Brighton by Claudia Kappenberg and Sarah Whatley.