I was able to attend two films as part of the New York City Dance on Camera Festival last week at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center.
Two nights, two documentaries on contemporary dance, two very different, yet equally effective, approaches to the genre.
[above: "Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde!," Dave St. Pierre]
The first, "Urban Ballet" (Brigitte Kramer and Jorg Jashel), was quite beautiful and was shot in Germany at the Tanz im August Berlin International Dance Festival. Perfectly edited with just the right amount of footage from interviews with the artists, the film focused on these artists works - whether it was in the streets, a train station, a warehouse studio, a lawn or the stage - thus allowing us to feel the spirit of this dance festival through viewing the dances created, workshopped and performed there. With dancing by the Dresden Semper Oper Ballett, Dave St. Pierre, Membros Cia de Danca, Akram Khan Company, Tecktonick, Hiroaki Umeda, Boris Charmatz, Meg Stuart & Jeremy Wade, Nasser Martin-Gousset, Les Slovaks Dance Collective, Olivier Dubois, Jefta van Dinter & Mette Ingvartsen, I was completely enthralled in the action. I was also happy to leave the theater with new dance artists to research on the web; I love discovering new artists and their work! Check out Dave St. Pierre - his naked frolicking men with blonde wigs (shot outdoors) and his interpretation of Afternoon of a Faun (on the stage) both made me laugh harder than I have in awhile. Well executed humor can only come from brilliance. I also really enjoyed the interviews with the members of Les Slovaks Dance Collective, as well as their novel way of interacting and navigating space. Their site-specific work shown in the film looked like five dancers in individual improvisations and also like a completely organized and architectural work for five dancers both at the same time - I didn't know that was possible! I also loved... ok, I must stop myself here, I liked almost everything I saw... [I've included some videos below for your viewing pleasure. They are not clips from "Urban Ballet" but work by the artists shown in the film.]
[above: "what it looks like, what it feels like," Beth Gill]
My next night at Walter Reade I saw another documentary, "New York Dance: States of Performance," in which Michael Blackwood used a very different approach than Kramer and Jashel. The film shifted from interview to interview with current contemporary choreographers living in New York. Footage from performances and rehearsals seemed almost secondary, the main goal being to have the artists followed - Christopher Wheeldon, Jennifer Monson, Sara Michelson, John Jasperse, Ralph Lemon, Beth Gill and Ann Liv Young - communicate their views on dance, dance making and performance. The film, curated by dance critic Gia Kourlas, portrayed a wide range of aesthetic preference, from Jennifer Monson's site-specific improvisations, to Beth Gill's discussion on stripping down movement, to clips of Ann Liv Young dancing pregnant (and naked) in rehearsal for her fantastically absurd Snow White. I won't say any more, you have to find a way to see it for yourself (although in the post-show Q&A it seemed sketchy as to when and how such future viewings will be possible). This was not Michael Blackwood's first foray into the New York dance scene, but was actually his third film about post (or post post) modern dance. Although I have not seen the other two films yet (I certainly plan on it), I have a feeling they would compose a wonderful trilogy. [Check out videos of some of the works shown in "New York Dance" at the bottom of this post.]
[above: "Rapture," Noemie Lafrance]
Back now to my first night at Walter Reade. In the same program as "Urban Ballet," four short dance films were also shown, and I must confess, they were actually what drew me into the theater in the first place. I have become very much obsessed with dances made specifically for the purpose of being filmed. The idea of dancing for no one but instead for a camera, where the "performance" up in front of people comes later, may seem alien to a dancer used to connecting with a live audience. Yet it opens up a whole new range of possibilities, a plethora of ways to convey a specific point of view filtered through your lens. It is purely your vision. What the viewer sees at any given time is a controlled substance, even more controlled than what you may choose to put up on the stage. On film, you can show the viewer the little things - a close-up on the dancer's ankle, or the movements of her eye - at just the right times. You choose the angle, and it is this power of vantage point that has become so appealing.
But I digress.
So, after "Urban Dance" I saw four short dance films. Each, in less than 10 minutes, gave us a peek into a world with a life all its own. In "Chamame" (Silvina Szperling, Argentina, 2008), a spoken narrative reminiscent of Marquez's magical realism took us on a visual, and visceral, bedtime fantasy story-like adventure...with dance...and a lot of water...and a fisherman. Very Imaginative. Like a free-write, but for film. On the other hand, the second film, "Rapture" (Noemie Lafrance, USA 2009), had no narrative. To me, not only did it capture a ground-breaking work on film, but also served to show that dance really has no limits. Shot in black and white, the film consisted of footage from a site-specific work of the same name that was performed on the top of the metallic and uneven landscape of the Fisher Center's rooftop at Bard College. Dancers in harnesses and only sky -a dance for thrill seekers. Then "Chloes" (Lea Fulton and Greg King, USA 2009), portrayed two white-clad sirens at a bus stop in Brooklyn. The close-ups were gorgeous, showing the dancers' alternate feelings of inhabiting and un-inhabiting this place. They are there and they are elsewhere. The film was set to an emotion-packed musical track, but I have to say, I would love to see the same video played again in silence. To me, the images hold more weight. Last but not least was "Three's A Crowd" (Andy Wood, UK 2007), a duet shot in one continuous take - an interesting challenge. With only the sound of the gravel under the dancers' feet, their breathing, the sunlight coming through the buildings, we are transported to this place. It was a moving snapshot of a playful afternoon and I dug it. Sign me up.