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Flash Review 1, 1-18: Camera (not) Obscura
Dance on Camera 2002: History Lessons and Visual Trips

By Nicole Pope
Copyright 2002 Nicole Pope

NEW YORK -- If you missed your first of several chances to see the Dance Films Association's recently begun 30th annual Dance on Camera Festival, get to it! It officially opened at the Walter Reade Theater on January 11, but will have a wide variety of different showings at Remote, the Lincoln Center Institute, The Puffin Room, Galapagos Art Space, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, and the Donnell Media Center now through January 27. Keep your eye out for this dance history lesson/ visual trip that, though lengthy iin scope, is worth the experience.

Tuesday's evening at the Donnell center offered up festival winners from the past. "In a Rehearsal Room"(1975) takes place in (you guessed it) a rehearsal room when it is love at first sight between two principal dancers of the American Ballet Theatre, Cynthia Gregory and Ivan Nagy. No words are spoken between the two during a short warm-up of tendus and releves, and with a single glance the two embodiments of utter grace glide across the screen in a tender pas de deux choreographed by William Carter to the music of Pachelbel's Canon. The camera movements, directed by David Hahn, are just as soft and fluid as the dancers themselves, though the film itself is too precious.

A documentary on Jacob's Pillow founder Ted Shawn (the only out of the bunch Tuesday) directed by Elliot Caplan, written by Richard Philp, and researched by Norton Owen, followed. "The Men Who Danced: The Story of Ted Shawn's Male Dancers 1933-1940" (1986) connects with the members of Ted Shawn's original all-male company at their Jacob's Pillow reunion. Historic footage of the troupe was unearthed and used for the first time in the making of this film that deals on many levels with the idea of preservation. The documentary preserves the experiences of the company on its "One Night Stand" tours; the early years spent living, dancing, and surviving the Depression at the Pillow; a soloist of the company passing down a Shawn piece to a young male dancer; and the beginning of a real legacy created by Ted Shawn -- the notion that men can dance too!

Merce Cunningham's fascination with the movements of birds is tranquil, introspective, shifting, and stunning. You don't have to know the title of the film ("Beach Birds for Camera," made in 1992)) to know the setting. The patter of flat feet scattering across the floor, quick heads searching, shuddering bodies, delicate arms hovering, and a group impulse to verge just upon and then move away from stillness could fascinate me for days. The subtlety of the camera lay in its power over where the viewer's focus almost unconsciously fell and in the way that shifts of perspective felt like the changing glance of a beach observer. It was entirely lovely, set to John Cage's "Four 3." Though Cage himself was able to play the composition, he passed away before the film was ever finished.

Jodi Kaplan, in a discussion that took place after all the pieces were shown stated that she worked "to make dance that can only exist on film." Such is the case in her 5 minute film "Chorea" (1996), which attempts to place the involvement of dance and film in an equal collaboration. Kaplan puts to use all the benefits of film such as zoom, slow motion, accounting the same action from different angles, and tricking the viewer's perception of movement, sound, and momentum. At times the goodies of the camera were overused, making the film a bit showy, but still an interesting experiment.

Lastly, "Measure" (2001) provided a blue hallway, light spilling in from the doorway, and two dancers with eyes staring into the camera as intensely as their rhythmic tapping merging together, taking them into an awareness of time and space beyond the audience. At the same time, it was the only piece of the evening that was inviting of the audience. Directed by Gaelen Hanson and Dayna Hanson, "Measure" is what I meant by the aforesaid "visual trip."

The evening was full of variety and it was interesting for me to note the different ways, some more successful than others, that dance and film work together. Whether it is to preserve a dance piece, to record a turning point in dance history, or to explore what can be visually accomplished when each art form is working for the other, the many approaches on display at the Dance On Camera festival make it a worthwhile event to attend.

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