Monthly Archives: May 2012

Super Human

Last weekend I saw The Avengers (Avengers Assemble in the UK, dir. Joss Whedon). The film, based on Marvel Comics superheroes, features typical Hollywood special effects and an equally typical plot about saving the world—and more specifically Manhattan—from the devastation of alien invasion. Truth be told, I have grown bored with Hollywood superheroes and the lingering anxieties of cultural difference that continue to hide beneath the mask of epic battles between good and evil. What purpose do aliens, superheroes, zombies, and the like collectively serve other than to offer socially approved outlets for xenophobia and megalomania?

As I sat in the theater enveloped in the orange-black hues of onscreen explosions, I allowed my mind to wander and I wondered not only about the superheroes of the comic book variety but also those that have been cropping up in dance. There seems to be a rhetoric around virtuosic dancing that aligns dance with the superhuman. To be sure, the comparison of dancers to gods or superhumans (in a Euro-American context) has been standard fare at least since Nijinsky, but the over-use of slow motion in film and television has surely added to the perception that dancers access something that lies beyond the reach of “normal” human beings. How can anyone dispute the divinity of 2011/Season 8 So You Think You Can Dance (U.S.) winner Melanie Moore when her leap into Neil Haskell’s arms is slowed to keep her aloft like an angel? Time slows for French b-boy Lil Crabe (a.k.a. Arthur Cadre), propping up his balances so as to give viewers adequate time to contemplate his hyper-flexible contortions in the 2012 video “Break Ton Neck” (dir. Aleks Yde). But the link between the dancer and the superhuman has reached new heights with Jon Chu’s Web series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, or The LXD, which has been playing on Hulu since the summer of 2010. (For those who can’t access Hulu, videos from the series can also be found on YouTube.)

The format of heroes and villains allows The LXD to showcase truly fabulous movers in dance battles, and the formation of coalitions for good and evil—the Legion on the “good” side, the Alliance of the Dark on the “bad”—offers opportunities for complex group choreography. But like the fistfights and explosions that make superhero movies exciting, dance is both the reason for The LXD’s existence and a recurring disruption. Like many Hollywood dance films in recent memory, good storytelling is sacrificed to good dancing. Eye candy though it may be, The LXD does at least attempt to think outside the limiting frameworks of dance companies, exotic tourist destinations, and “the street” as the only legitimate contexts for popular dance onscreen. Though I find the webisodes aesthetically over-done—overexposed and dizzyingly edited—I appreciate the standard of dance ability the show represents. I still question, however, the usefulness of the superhuman as a model for dance. What does dance stand to gain from investing in this image? Why is dance (still) in need of superheroes?


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Re: More territories for The Co(te)lette Film

This is a reposting of the message Douglas Rosenberg originally sent to MEDIA-ARTS-AND-DANCE@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


Dear Reader,

If the measure of success is widespread distribution, then this is certainly a triumph for dance on screen and congratulations are in order. However, at the risk of raining on Mr.’s Kirschner and Figgis’ parade, The Co(te)lette Film is among the worst examples of representations of women on film insofar as it reinforces tropes that are both degrading, cliched and hackneyed as it oppresses one gender at the expense of another. I may be out on a limb here, but Figgis’ use of the camera to sexualize his subjects and titillate his viewers is worth a discussion at least. This film (as well as others with similar screen politics) has gone largely unexamined and without the kind of critique that every college student that has ever taken a contemporary art course let alone a Women’s or Gender Studies course is trained to do. Quoting from the synopsis of the film, “The dancers are slaves of their own desires while trying to get in control of them”. Really? In 2012? Perhaps that sentiment is the thesis that precedes the film.  Or perhaps that is the rationale by which the filmmaker is able to insinuate himself into a group of variously unclothed female dancers, probing the dance within a group of watchers that surround the performance space. We watch the “action” through the camera in a manner that those watching live can not: a heightened sense of sexuality made all the more so by the dominance of the method of recording. And it is exceedingly replayable, in slow motion, in stop action, a kind of screendance party favor for the viewer. Granted Mr. Figgis and the choreographer Ann Van den Broek are artists of the first rank, however within the space of the screen and in the frame of the camera, sexuality and the camera’s inherently carnal appetite over-amplifies what on stage might have been “edgy” or intimate, pushing such representations closer to predictable male fantasies and creating a severely skewed idea of what screendance might be after a hundred years of dance in screenic space. Sound overly moral? Maybe, but images such as those in The Co(te)lette Film inscribe themselves on the culture of both dance and screendance in such a way as to become normative, slowly eroding any sort of critical discourse around the form in favor of the wide-spread distribution of sexual spectacle made possible by ever higher definition video. Figgis states that [the stage version of] “Co(te)lette is a remarkable piece of work and it is important that it is recorded.” However, here, it is more than simply recorded. Each “intimate” gesture is made instantly consumable for the viewer via the lens of the camera in the way that violence and sexuality are imminently connected by the montage of editing. Along with two female colleagues, I recently juried over 100 dance films for a festival. As noted by my colleagues, a recurring trope in the films we watched mirrored the Figgis film: groups of young women, their bodies made ultra fit by the practice of dance, “choreographing” a kind of hyper-attenuated almost ritualistic exhibition of the most seductive aspects of their own sensuality for the attentive space of the camera. Often these films were directed by men, but just as often women directed the same eager, uncritical transference of agency to the spectator; an exhibition for media as opposed to a hybrid of movement and media and an institutionalization of the unquestioned privilege of the camera. The fetishization of dancing bodies is common in this milieu, made more so by the uncritical viewing practices that are the norm in festivals and distribution systems. So, if anyone is reading at this point, my point is this: art is still a political action at its core. I find the politics of this work of art (The Co(te)lette Film ) to be not those which I wish to passively support with my silence.
Douglas Rosenberg