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Friday Film Focus 2,
2-2: Dance Film Takes Direction
All-access at Dance on Camera
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2001 Kelly Hargraves
In the space of a two-hour
film program I had traveled to the stages and studios of several
countries and been given an all-access pass. In the comfort of a
film theater, complete with spilled popcorn on the floor, I was
able to watch the process and product of an international collection
of choreographers from close up. The allure of dance film is its
ability to bring the vitality and emotion of live performance into
the casual comfort of the cinema.
Based on the 2001 Dance
on Camera Festival held last month in New York, there are as many
types of dance films as there are, well, dancers. This year's installation
attracted 176 entrants from all over the world and prompted an expanded
format. Under the direction of the Dance Film Association's Deirdre
Towers, the festival has grown to include "Best of Fest" winners
and classics at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, special showings
and discussions at the Puffin Gallery, workshops, and an open video
library of all the films entered. Films ranged from historical and
anthropological documentaries to experimental shorts. The only constant
is that all these films are by, for and/or about choreography.
The "main stage" of the
festival is the Walter Reade program, curated in association with
Lincoln Center. Over three weekends this prestigious location and
well-versed audience were treated to a variety of films that included
documentaries such as the National Film Board of Canada's "Showgirls,"
a documentary about three dancers from the Black jazz hey day in
Montreal; "Bomba," the story of a Puerto Rican family whose members
have dedicated their lives to nurturing this indigenous dance form;
and "Swing, Bop and Hand Dance," a history of dance in African-American
life. Other docs featured ballet stars like Eric Bruhn and the Bolshoi
Ballet. Added to this was a fantastic program called "Treasures
from the Cinematheque de la Danse" which showed clips from the early
20th century that highlighted dance's role in the birth of cinema.
Contemporary tastes were
filled with the "Best of Fest" films such as "Rest In Peace," featuring
the "Het Hans Hof Ensemble" and directed by Annick Vroom. RIP's
strength was its clear telling of the tale of three siblings who
must bury their parents. Both choreographers and filmmakers worked
to integrate the dance into the story and into the surrounding atmosphere.
Shot in a stunning mansion, the choreography utilizes the set as
impetus for movement and emotion. The stairway becomes a launching
pad, the dining table a platform and the cups and saucers objects
In a workshop for young
people held at the Lincoln Center Institute, Vroom explained her
strategy of making a dance film and demonstrated in just a short
time how seemingly unrelated gestures and intentions could be honed
and clarified to create character, story structure and dramatic
arc. Her cinematographer also demonstrated the best way to bring
this story to life through articulate shot choices.
Canadian Laura Taler's
"A Very Dangerous Pastime" is a dynamic doc which juxtaposed a split
screen of film clips from Canada's greatest dance companies with
commentary from athletes, comedians and musicians who explain the
thrill of dance and why audiences shouldn't be afraid. Archive footage
from the 1950s that attempted the same adds a humorous tone to the
stunning choreography and cinematography of the clips. Other festival
winners include "Arc," a moody, three-chapter telling of transformation.
Dance On Camera also
serves as a showcase for programs developed in the last few years
to foster dance film production. The Dance for the Camera/Dansblik
program, produced by the BBC for television, offered several short
humorous films such as "The Linesman" and "Men of Good Fortune."
The Pew Charitable Trust/UCLA Fellowship program produced some fine
documentaries and various as yet to be completed projects.
Documentaries such as
Sharon Kinney's "From the Horses Mouth," which follows Tina Croll
and James Cunningham's project of the same name, are a prime example
of how dance film helps develop the art form of dance by not only
allowing wider audiences access to a performance, but also access
to the words and thoughts of the choreographers and dancers involved.
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