Category Archives: Review

Cinema as Ritual in Transfigured Time

Maya_Deren_Symposium

This was a somewhat spontaneous one-day symposium in Basel on the 20th May 2017, organised by Prof. Dr. Ute Holl, with and for students of the ‘Seminar Medienwissenschaften’ (Media Research Seminar) at the University of Basel, CH.

Convened in order to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Maya Deren, it aimed to explore the relation between dance and trance and cinema. Guest speakers included: Ling Ji Hon (who started the day of with a Tai Chi session), Christine Noll Brinckmann, Mathilde Rosier, Claudia Kappenberg, Moira Sullivan, Florence Freitag. The setting was suitably magical, hosted by Neues Kino Basel, a community-led romantic old building complete with Berlin-style ‘Hinterhof’, screening room, large kitchen diner and ample hang-out spaces.

Ute Hall invited everyone to fully immerse themselves in discussions, and to be flexible around timings and programming. This – and the delicious food – led to a lovely, relaxed and conversational atmosphere. Presenters had also been invited to mix academic discussions with more creative approaches and to screen personal work if suitable, which allowed for new connections to emerge between then and now and between different practices. My favourite was a presentation / screening by Mathilde Rosier, whose work has both visual rigour and a magical, playful character.

And guess what, Maya Deren’s footage and sound recordings from Haiti will feature in this year’s DOCUMENTA in Kassel, together with photos by Deren biographer Martina Kudlacek, work by the Haitian artist Andre Pierre and paintings by Amrita Sher-Gil. The exhibition is curated by Natasha Ginwala. See you there?!

Deren’s work clearly continues to fascinate and entrance people, and is perhaps more relevant than ever.

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Email and ipads in ancient Rome?

I spent a day with IT4Arts, the London City-based Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (a Guild) which provides free advice and training for non-for-profit Arts organisations such as the Screendance Journal, but also big established institutions such as, the Roundhouse, the Royal Albert Hall, Tate, and BBC etc.

A most fascinating talk was given by Tom Standage from The Economist, author of Writing on the Wall (2013). Applying current, social media vocabulary to the means of communication amongst the Romans and in the Middle Ages, he argued basically that they had networks of communication that functioned much like our social media, with messages and news that were sent from person to person, and with news that were trending across networks and others that faded away quickly.

According to Standage there are three phases of media development, with Really Old Media from 60BC through to 1833, Old Media until 2000, and New Media since then. The Really Old Media included paintings as a form of selfies, letters on papyrus delivered by slaves and copied to others as a sort of email equivalent, a whole system of messengers (tabelari) as broadband, and a culture of copying books and adding books to personal libraries as an equivalent to person to person distribution. An example of a social media savvy person as suggested by Standage is the Evangelist Paul, who wrote letters to key churches, such as his letter to the Colossians, knowing that they would be copied time and again until eventually every church would hold a copy and hear about his ideas. Strategic blogging and tweeting, in other words, is not exactly a new idea.

No doubt there were significant changes with the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press with movable types in around 1450, but the changes were gradual. Initially any printing was small scale and served mainly to amplify the person to person distribution. For example, when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest against the Pope’s selling off of indulgences – which supposedly saved people from going to purgatory and which Luther saw as a complete con – he discovered the power of printed distribution. His first theses were written in Latin, addressing the more learned people and thereby limiting the readership. Noting the considerable interest in his theses Luther then translated them into a form of German, and it took a mere two weeks for the theses to be distributed around the whole of Germany. (A little side effect was that this nationwide distribution established a common German language.) According to Standage, Luther’s thesis can count as an excellent example of peer-to-peer distribution.

As Standage proposed, later historical social media phenomena were, for example, the coffee houses of the 1600s, which acted as debating chambers and thrived on the buzz created by the newly imported coffee. The Tudors had a thing called the commonplace books, which were personal diaries of sorts and used for noting poems and ideas. The commonplace books were shown to friends for the purpose of sharing inspiration and for copying. Occasionally, Standage added, they were circulated amongst several authors as in the court of Anne Boleyn and served to speculate and to ‘gossip’ on who was whose lover etc.

Only in 1833, Standard argued, did the press achieve the kind of mass distribution we know today, which established a radically different, controlling, and top-down circulation of the news. While in Luther’s time small printers would print, for example, a 1000 copies and remunerate the author by handing him 100 of those, from the 1800s the press was owned by the very wealthy who impose their own version of the news, temporarily overriding social media circuits.

Standage concluded that the social networks of the Really Old Media had essentially allowed for the same kind of synchronisation of opinions we experience today with twitter, blogging and Facebook, and which underpin events like the Arab Spring. Hence, the ‘new social media’ must be considered as a revival of ancient horizontal distribution systems. Current social media have amplified the reach and speed of communication  through new technologies, but they are not a new phenomenon as such. The old coffee houses – hotbeds of ideas and centres of innovation – meanwhile morphed, over time, into new kinds of businesses like insurance brokers, and fuelled collaborations and scientific discoveries.

All of this reminds me that getting together, talking and sharing ideas is absolutely vital for any culture. That was precisely the situation at the beginning of the screendance venture, when Doug Rosenberg, Katrina McPherson and I secured the funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for an international Network in Screendance. The Network fund allowed us to gather a set of key people and to meet twice a year, either in the US or the UK, and to spend a few days together talking. Most crucially the Network fund had not required us to predetermine what exactly we were going to do together! Out of these intensive encounters then came the idea, that we needed a dedicated platform for the publication of debates in the field of Screendance, and that led, a mere six months later, to the launch of the Screendance Journal. It is a great shame that nowadays days most funding proposals require a fully formed plan of action and a whole set of outcomes before one has even started meeting. This disregards how ideas are formed, and how people become productive. Three cheers for the AHRC for keeping up the Network Grant.

For videos of the IT4Arts talks see Information Technologists

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Chirstinn Whyte’s Review of LIFF

Leeds International Film Festival has been a high profile presence on the major circuit for almost three decades. Traditionally screening programmes across an eclectic range of fields, from animation to sci-fi, the festival last year dipped a toe into the under represented – in British festival terms, at least – genre of screendance.

This initiative could be viewed as being either exceptionally brave, or extremely foolhardy, in a climate of diminishing state funding and recent loss of all other domestic festivals. Over the last ten years, well-established ventures in Brighton, London, Liverpool and Edinburgh have been extinguished in turn like lit points on a map, leaving LIFF as sole torch-bearer for a genre experiencing international academic and artistic acclaim, but which has traditionally struggled to attract dedicated film festival audiences.

Read on…go to Chirstinn Whyte’s blog UNSPOOLED, also published on the LIFF Screendance FB page. More on the competition here.

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2nd Edition of Light Moves Festival

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Some thoughts on the Light Moves Festival, by Claudia Kappenberg

Last week I spend three days at Light Moves, in Limerick (Ireland). The festival offered a rich combination of screenings, symposium, installed works and talks by seasoned artists whose practices ask profound questions as to who we are and how we relate to the world around us.

Performance artist Nigel Rolfe shared images of an extensive body of work, including a couple of works on video, in which a lone figure exposes itself to the elements. Nigel Rolfe at a screendance festival? This might seem like a stretch to some, but I think it is only a sign of our times and of what there is to come. The screen is becoming ever more ubiquitous, and more and more artists are embracing it as a means to make work and to visit/ revisit their material and ideas.

Rolfe undertakes durational, often daylong interventions and condenses these into 2min long videos, giving as much as glimpses of the work through one slow pan. As a member of Black Market International he is one of a group of artists who have been challenging the cultural and cultivated self by asserting their physical material presence, through durational performances in both urban environments and in the landscape. It is a practice of surrender it seems, to time, weight, and whatever conditions one might find oneself in. Sometimes an audience witnesses this work, sometimes Rolfe has no one for company.

In the everyday our bodies tend to be a kind of background at the service of the mind, and inversions of this constellation tend to be painful and unwelcomed. Watching a performance which challenges this order of things, and even witnessing the process on film can be quite unsettling. So why does Nigel Rolfe go to such extremes, expose himself, at times even endangering his life? The work makes me think of ancient sacrificial rites and lone wolf adventures, of existential feats and extreme sports. However, the work also has a strong aesthetic and performances give rise to striking and beautiful images. Performances can look like paintings made from body, earth and sky, not unlike the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries. Surrender of Self in the search of the sublime perhaps? This work is as much part of our cultural traditions as it is on its margins, and perhaps this paradox is what makes it so intriguing.

As part of an exchange with the Australian multi-arts centre Carriageworks, the festival also included an exhibition of several works that form part of 24 Frames Per Second, a set of 24 new commisions for screen-based work at the intersection of film, dance and the visual arts. One of the works presented at Light Moves was Running Tongue (2015), the latest cinematic collaboration between choreographer Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton. The work and its creative process was discussed at a conversation between the curators Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson with Sue Davies. Peeling back the layers that led to this composition, Davies described the brief for the 22 independent dance artists who were invited to make a few seconds each. Key to the composition was a selection of 250 proverbs that Davies and Hinton selected from across the world and which delineate and define woman in one way or another. The invited artists were also given a folder with the visual material and painting references, and they were asked to make a composition within a still image that included a freeze frame of a female, naked runner in profile. This female runner was also the link between the different scenes, running through psychedelic cut-out forests and pausing briefly in each of the scenes. The individual scenarios had to be composed as a photographic collage, all the imagery had to be set in London, and movement was considered a luxury. The resulting work is a highly surface-conscious, digital tapestry of textures, colours and shapes, a series of tableaus with strange and unpredictable constellations. Furthermore the whole thing is not a fixed sequence but digitally randomised. No two screenings will ever be the same.

While the tableaus tend to have a narrative feel, there is little actual story telling and the fragmented nature of the work is somewhat unsettling. Yes there is the lone runner travellling from scene to scene but her solitude is not mitigated. Things happen to her she does not react or interact. Her big stride is beautiful and energetic, but the ongoing, neverending cycle turns it into a relentless and somewhat exhausting activity. One could read the work as a portrait of a generation, in which thoughtfulness and tenderness alternate with sudden spouts of violence. Against the backdrop of the recent, seemingly random attacks in Paris, Germany and Tunesia, and the sudden flare-up between Russia and Turkey, this seems all too real.

The choreographed randomness was already present in All This Can Happen, the previous collaboration between Davies and Hinton and another kaleidoscopic composition of cultural life forms and their multiples. All this can happen, say the films, and all this takes place on screen. Maya Deren argued that film was the defining medium of the 20th century. In the 21st century any differences between the screen and the everyday are melting away.

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Review of the 1st Edition of Light Moves Festival

Screendance as a Question: All This Can Happen and the First Edition of the Light Moves Festival of Screendance

By Priscilla Guy

Defining screendance (or dancefilm, or videodance, or dance on screen, or dance for the camera, or cine-dance, or moving-picture dance[1]) as an artistic discipline is a divisive exercise that forces many of us to justify our word choice—an inherently defensive position. Instead of diving into the poetics of this eclectic form and its many entry points (including choreography, movement, performance, virtual presence, and the moving image), such debate—related both to the materials used and to the methods of creation—has intensified the importance of the two primary artistic components of this practice: dance and cinema. Of course, such ontological dilemmas remain interesting in that they allow us to unpack some core concepts of the practice. Ultimately, however, we are stuck in a paradoxical position: while screendance calls for a dismantling of artistic categories, its denomination as a discipline in its own right ultimately encloses it in an uncomfortable box.

Wouldn’t it actually be liberating to focus a little more on what screendance does, and less on what it is or is not? What if we take screendance as a question, instead of an answer? What if we don’t consider the encounter between dance and cinema as an end, a discipline, or a hybrid form, but rather as a starting point, an experiment, a method, or a question?

Claudia Kappenberg, in her article The politics of discourse in hybrid art forms,[2] shares Hollis Frampton’s concept of the “film machine.”

Frampton proposes to envision as one machine all parts that constitute a filmic work, i.e. to not only think of the camera used to capture moving images as one machine, or of the projector that projects those images to an audience as another one. Rather, the “film machine” would be the sum of the parts that constitute the artistic experience of cinema, from its making to its presentation.

Accordingly, Kappenberg suggests that, “we should perhaps be less concerned with individual projects and whether they are Screendance or not, but rather consider a wider body of works and even include that which occurs in the everyday through interactions with cameras and screens, digital media, and the internet. If a person is caught on a CCTV camera in a public building, perhaps this is also part of the contemporary machinery of Screendance.”[3]  In doing so, Kappenberg invites us to look at the big picture of the practice, rather than its specific features.

My aim is to extend the idea that screendance is a set of dispositions and elements which can create a common practice for artists of various backgrounds. I will therefore give less importance to its formal qualities and to the type of works that should result from it. Instead, I will envision screendance as a posture towards art making: a way of accessing new creative ideas, a way of looking at new and old artworks, a way of creating works, and a way of thinking.

I had the opportunity to share these questions during the first edition of the Light Moves Festival of Screendance in Ireland (2014),[4] curated and directed by Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson. This event was special in many ways. First, because the launch of a new international festival means that the field is further developing its networks and structures, and that more professionals are involved in its development. Second, because this festival’s curatorial choices put forward works, conferences, and teaching approaches that proposed screendance as a starting point and a perspective, rather than as a fixed discipline. Amongst the films presented, All This Can Happen from Davies and Hinton represented this idea particularly well.

I will first provide an overview and critical review of this inaugural edition of Light Moves. I will then comment critically on Davis and Hinton’s film in order to illustrate my argument. Finally, I will close the discussion with a statement in favor of independent and experimental approaches within this very rich playground where dance, performance, digital media, visual arts, and cinema meet.

 

First Edition of the Light Moves Festival of Screendance

The Festival took place over four days, from November 6 through 9, 2014. It was organized around four axes: teaching (a two-day workshop), screenings, symposium, and discussions with the artists. Douglas Rosenberg made his keynote address, stating how important it was to welcome a new structure in the field and how precious those moments of beginnings were. He mentioned that, due to the hybrid nature of our field and its international—rather than geographical—development, moments of gathering were especially significant, as they allow for the sharing of knowledge and information. Through the choices made by the curators, debates and questions emerged, as well as affinities between the professionals attending the event. Those encounters are the fuel we need to continue our investigations, the mental and creative support that pushes us to innovate.

One of the most interesting things about Light Moves was the manner in which its curatorial choices challenged many common assumptions about screendance. The eternal question, “Well, was that dance at all?”, was pronounced several times during the festival. Few films featured choreographed dance sequences performed by trained dancers, yet they all engaged with movement in a singular way. Dance was at the core of the festival, but in a different form than the one we are used to seeing in such settings. The attention given to the intersection of academia, creation, and pedagogy also reinforced a desire for a holistic comprehension of screendance.

Short Films Highlights

Amongst the short films presented, some stood out for their novel presentation of dance and movement. Vanishing Point[5] proposed a minimalist transformation of a performance-installation. The hyper-slow evolution from frozen landscape to running water brought the spectator into a meditative state; bodies seemed lifeless and unmoving. Yet as the film evolved, details emerged: a subtle alteration of the set up, or the quiet movement in the sound-scape which pointed to the deterioration of the initial image. In contrast to the fast editing so common in advertising, music videos, and action cinema, this film challenged our conception of bodies in [slow]motion. Vanishing Point was not necessarily what one might call a ‘dancefilm,’ yet it fit in perfectly at this screendance event.

Nation for Two[6] featured a novel use of editing in order to put bodies into action. This stop-motion film presented two individuals diving underground in order to meet each other from opposite sides of the planet. Digging their way towards one another, their bodies were nearly absent from the film, although the spectator felt them traveling underground and saw the repercussions of their passage as the ground surface was displaced and destroyed by their movement. One can only imagine how it would feel to dig a tunnel underground, traversing sand, rocks, gravel, and grass; and when the two bodies finally emerged again, I, as a spectator, was left relieved, yet curious. This investigation was fascinating for its simplicity, and made real use of the cinematic potential to convey a choreographic idea involving movement of the human body.

Beach Party Animal[7] traced pedestrian movement proper to Brighton beach life (UK) and transformed it into a dance, simply by juxtaposing a series of lightly staged everyday situations. From dog walkers to yogis, from moms with babies to an old man in a leopard g-string swimsuit, the characters in this hilarious episode were bursting with honesty. Simple gestures became choreographic when repeated or looked at from a different perspective. Normal behaviors became grotesque when seen through the eye of the camera. With its frank use of humor and dynamic dramaturgy, this film brought us into a more pedestrian expression of the body and its evocative features.

 

Feature Films and Installations Highlight

While most of the program was focused on short films, the curators also included feature films that addressed the question of movement and choreography in unexpected ways. With Russian Ark[8] and Playtime,[9] Light Moves brought together cinema lovers and screendance specialists. In doing so, they invited the spectators to discuss matters that are often neglected in screendance contexts—for instance, the physical body of the cameraperson or the choreography of architecture and props in relation to human bodies. Instead of screening films that correspond to the idea most people have of screendance, the two artistic directors pushed the audience to watch works with a specific mind set, indirectly asking them to consider where the dance was.

Installed in a gallery space as well as in a smaller room next to the screening space, video installations brought yet another layer to this question of screendance. Distant Wars[10] proposed a video installation on an iPod with headphones, in which a collage of archival footage evoked the fear of war imposed on us by the State apparatus. People were documented, animated, and presented at a very small scale, putting the body of the spectator in the foreground. Alone in that small room, one could engage in a very personal way with the material for as long as one wished. Perception of time was altered and one could experience an intimate relationship with the [dancing] bodies on that small iPod screen. If the invader comes[11] welcomed the viewer into a gallery space in which three screens were juxtaposed. Here again, the spectator was free to determine the duration of their experience. The piece evolved from one screen to another in a minimalistic way, with very few bodies in motion appearing on screen and a lot of space for contemplation and silence. Again, watching this piece with ‘screendance’ in mind highlighted some of its most striking aspects: temporality and spatiality. I noticed how my eye was drawn to some details, some ‘possibilities,’ some ‘potentialities.’ So many things could have happened during the time spent watching this video installation, and yet it is an economic work, where less is shown and less is done. Though formal at first sight, this work manages to convey a real kinaesthetic charge and a subtle choreographic construction completely at odds with a more action-based or narrative dance-film style.

Workshop and Symposium Highlights

Finally, a two-day workshop and the symposium where also curated for this occasion. First, the workshop’s facilitators/teachers offered a rich palette of approaches to screendance creation and theory, while introducing ideas that were later echoed at the symposium. Led by Douglas Rosenberg, Katrina McPherson, Simon Fildes, and Jürgen Simpson, the workshop brought together international filmmakers, performers, and choreographers. Each facilitator shared their personal vision on the practice, proposing exercises and questions of debate to the group. While those individual visions where sometimes divergent or even contradictory, the combination of these perspectives created a strong playground for the participants to further develop their own, personal approach to the field. The discrepancies emerging from the various backgrounds and profiles of the facilitators ultimately consolidated back into a common desire to challenge the field and to be challenged by other professionals. Their curiosity made up for any disagreement that might have weakened the workshop, highlighting the positive impact of envisioning screendance as a starting point, rather than a rigidly defined field. Second, the symposium gathered speakers from diverse countries and proposed a wide range of conferences, including both performative approaches and academic presentations. Experimentation, cross-disciplinary approaches, and alternate conference styles where at the core of the program.

Another key feature of the festival was the overwhelming majority of female scholars included in its symposium. Since its beginnings, cinema has had influential female artists and authors who were responsible for initiating some of the most groundbreaking techniques and ideas for the screen.[12] However, their work and writings were not given as much attention as those of their male counterparts and were often forgotten or dismissed. Some initiatives now try to reconnect the dots by retracing influential work by women in the film field.[13]

As they do so, the current community of screendance is witnessing a wide consolidation of women’s writings and knowledge: symposiums, conferences, and panels often feature a large majority of women; peer reviewed publications (such as this one) also dedicate a high percentage of their articles to women scholars; a strong cohort of female directors emerge from screendance festivals and events; and, finally, major curators internationally are in good proportion women, too. Within our specialized circuit, festivals with a strong experimental component such as Light Moves seem to gather even more women in their programs.[14]

In terms of academia, this phenomenon within the screendance circuit has already had a fantastic impact on both the content of the artworks presented and the academic discourse that is being developed around it. This field is fed largely by alternate voices, namely, those of women who interact with the form on several levels (academic, artistic, curatorial, etc.). While those voices don’t get as much exposure or opportunities in male-dominated experimental and commercial cinema festivals, they decidedly grow in number in our specialized niche and offer fresh perspectives to audiences, artists, and scholars.

Light Moves thus inscribes its curatorial vision in the international network in a political way, instigating new debates and creating space for alternate voices. Working as a counterpoint to mainstream cinema, the festival incarnates an important fringe of the screendance’s network—one that is resolutely experimental, searching for new connections or marginal discourses, and digging further under the surface of commercial excitement.

 

Curating Screendance

Curators Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson made risky choices, putting forward experimental approaches instead of mainstream ones. Worldwide, a lot of screen time is dedicated to mainstream ‘dancefilms’ in the festivals circuit, while little space is reserved for experimentation in screendance, on both formal and conceptual levels. For instance, established festivals such as San Francisco Screendance Festival and Dance on Camera Festival in New York feature a great percentage of films that have more in common with the commercial film circuit. On an artistic level, those (more often than not) high-budget productions seem to come with a certain image quality and a certain camera work: HD or 3D images, stable camera, long shots with steady cam, impressive bird-eye views, expensive slow motion shots, etc. In addition, those films frequently feature a certain type or style of dance, and more or less codified expressions of moving bodies as in ballet vocabulary, acrobatic movements and circus techniques, modern dance technique, social dance, etc. Those films move away from experimental approaches to movement and camera work, and render a homogenized version of screendance, one that is somehow reduced to a recognizable “style” or “type” of dance, filmed with the visual qualities of Hollywood movies with an impressive production team. To counter balance such expressions of screendance in the art milieu, alternate platforms are needed. Not only should they feature marginal approaches to both dance and cinema, and create space for independent filmmaking/choreography, to challenge the dominant forms of cinema.

For all these reasons, I find Light Moves to be an important new player in the larger circuit. This festival creates space for strong voices that have been present in the field for decades, and highlights them with audacity through a bold program of films, installations, conferences, and workshops. In addition to positioning themselves in a dynamic and competitive international film festival circuit, Light Moves’ curators integrate their event in a growing alternate circuit that gathers symposiums, festivals, scientific publications, and other projects through which a community of artists and researchers find a sense of belonging outside the mainstream standards. Annually, a series of encounters and events are now available to professionals interested in experimentation and alternate visions of screendance, in several countries. The development of this international community becomes a statement against normalized approaches in cinema and dance and in the arts in general.[15] In parallel, the two curators deal with a diverse audience, ranging from specialists in the field to citizens of the City of Limerick who may not already be familiar with screendance. The curators manage to present a radical program, while also gathering diverse audience members together around some cinema classics, which are re-considered under the “lens” of screendance (e.g. Russian Ark, Playtime). In the program notes, Wycherley and Simpson mentioned their desire to present an array of approaches, while also “providing a platform for new works and a forum for development and enquiry in this exciting area.”[16]  They aim to “showcase the unique diversity of movement on screen via a series of curated events.”[17]

While the distinction between curating and programming is being debated and questioned, Light Moves proves that there is a need and a place for strong curatorial voices in the field and that audiences’ engagement with such voices is enthusiastic. Traveling from film to video installations, from classic cinema to an intimate iPod screen, the viewer may enlarge their range of perception and discover new sensations.

 

All This Can Happen / Davies and Hinton, UK, 2012

In the midst of this rich programming, All This Can Happen engaged with most of the more exciting questions debated during the festival. Even the title of the film seemed to point to the very concerns of the participants, reassuring them that, yes, all this can happen [as screendance]. Put into that context, the film incarnated several alternative visions of choreography for/by/with cinema, without actually making explicit references to “dance.” Yet one could argue that this film had many dances in it: a dance of moving images, from shot to shot; a dance made out of cinematic potential and editing strategies; and a dance in which body movements are not choreographed by a choreographer during the shooting, but rather by the choreographic choices of the two editors in post-production.

 

Choreographic Editing

In this film, made out of archival images and footage from the earliest days of cinema, several choreographic strategies are at play: repetition, creation of a trajectory, and juxtaposition of bodies through the use of split screens. Temporality and spatiality are at the center of the choreographic qualities of this work.

Karen Pearlman, in her book Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit, compares the way choreographers work with the way editors do, mentioning how movement is actually created and choreographed “within a shot, through the juxtaposition of shots, or both.”[18] Movement expresses duration: time goes by and modifies our reception of a movement, just as time goes by and modifies the movement itself as it ends, continues, slows down, or accelerates. She writes, “Editing involves the phrasing of movement, or the aesthetic shaping of movement into that aspect of empathetic engagement with film that we call rhythm.”[19]

In All This Can Happen, the creators play with choreographic material composed of bodies, landscapes, architectures, vehicles, animals, nature, and everyday objects. From this vibrant palette, rhythm is built and space is sculpted. Davies and Hinton choreograph the screen using the cinematic parameters of film; its temporal potential is exploited through a precise editing that interrupts, repeats, accelerates, and decelerates actions with a tempo that keeps the viewer captive. Its spatial potential is multiplied and confused through the use of the split screen, making the action jump from one place to another—or happen in two distinct places at the very same time—while remaining in constant dialogue. A shot from the right side of the screen interacts with a shot from the left side of the screen. Movement is choreographed within those shots, but also for the relation they have to one another. Still shots cohabit with moving images, creating another type of tension between stillness, movement, and the potential of the still image to move again. Like in a painting, one’s eye is guided through the composition of moving elements on screen. A new reality is choreographed through dramaturgic choices and a fine orchestration of time/space.

Similar to the work of Dutch documentary filmmaker Johan Van der Keuken, (who is not considered a screendance maker at all, but who produced many films that have a strong choreographic feel),[20] All This Can Happen invents new dances, new bodies, and new locations that can only exist in the reality of the film. Like Van der Keuken, Davies and Hinton make a dance without dancers. From a choreographic editing perspective, this achievement is another step in the blurring of artistic disciplines to the profit of singular artistic voices.

 

Narration and Coherence

Another element that is dominant in this work is the use of a voice-over throughout the film. While at first this voice-over seems to guide us through the chronology of the images, it quickly becomes clear that it is neither a reference for a chronological storyline, nor a descriptive voice. The voice here acts as another body in the film, sometimes incarnating a character that we see on screen, at other times acting as a feeling, a texture, or even a nostalgic presence. Those various identities are intertwined, dismantling and reconstructing several possible storyline associations. Fiction cinema has often been put at odds with experimental filmmaking, notably because of the question of narration. Also, “narration” is frequently thought to provide chronological “coherence.” While several feminist filmmakers discarded narration for the benefit of abstraction in the ’70s, hoping to reinvent representations of the female body and liberate themselves from the rules of Hollywood cinema, some scholars such as Laura de Lauretis envisioned narration differently. Shohini Chaudhuri writes, “De Lauretis points out that the closure is only a contingent feature of narrative, particular to certain forms such as the Hollywood classic. More important to her is the fact that narrative is a mechanism of coherence—that is, a mechanism of meaning. She advocates the strategic deployment of narrative in order to ‘construct other forms of coherence, to shift the terms of representation, to produce the conditions of the representability of another—and gendered—social subject.’”[21]

Chantal Akerman, in her very first film Saute ma Ville in 1968, created a mechanism of coherence that borrowed from linear narration, while using no dialogue at all and giving very few indications about the character’s history. The film presents a woman going up an elevator, entering her house, preparing for some disaster (taping the doors, blocking the windows), then “cleaning” the kitchen while throwing Tupperware on the floor, awkwardly eating spaghetti, putting water on the gas oven, lighting it up, and sitting on the floor . . . . This sequence of actions, apparently random, slowly organizes into a coherent whole, even though it might not happen chronologically on screen. From a state of latent hysteria, the woman seems to find some internal peace through this mysterious ritual. No narrator is present in the film, yet the woman makes sounds, sings creepily, and talks to herself—offering glimpses of her internal thoughts to the viewer. While Saute ma Ville is not carried by a typical voice-over, the mumbling and singing of the main protagonist acts as a strong expression of her emotional states. Without actual words, this form of vocal presence in the soundscape also reinforces another form of logic and narration in the film.

The actual actions she performs and her mental state converge in a coherent whole. Saute ma Ville is probably not included in any screendance repertoire, yet it has many features that allow us to relate it to both dance/performance. Movement is central, carried on by a logic that creates meaning, while no dialogue or character are clearly presented or described. The choreographed sequences of actions recall Chaplin’s films, albeit with a much more “trash” aesthetic.

Davies and Hinton’s film holds similarities with Akerman’s work in Saute ma Ville, challenging our conceptions of narration, while using a form of voiceover that differs from a linear storyline. This voice in All This Can Happen is notably poetic, not only prescriptive. Here the voice is integrated into the choreographic editing and neither the voice nor the movement is subordinate. Instead, they collaborate in the creation of coherence throughout the film. The viewer might look forward to actually seeing the face of the voice they hear, chasing the subject or principal actor of the film, and getting lost in his memories and stories instead. All This Can Happen succeeds at establishing a dialogue between bodies and voice, images and content. Meaning is created through the succession of images, sound, and text from shot to shot, and through an accumulation of those same elements within shots. From a screendance perspective, it stands out as a strong model for the development of new strategies for building interaction between dance and other languages.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, both the Light Moves Festival of Screendance and Davies and Hinton’s film suggest a wider understanding of screendance: its position in the field of contemporary arts challenges both dance and cinematic conventions, while also putting screendance in dialogue with other art forms. Indeed, if screendance remains a question—one that leads us to think outside the box or to connect ideas in a novel fashion—then there is no limit to its creative potential.

Experimental filmmaking and contemporary creation in dance are not simply pushing forward the formal qualities of the medium, but also our understanding of them. Experimentation demands that we dare to imagine new ways of working, not just new categories within which to operate. The strength of experimental creation is an oscillation between knowing where we are going and not knowing what we are doing, even at the moment we do it. Like walking, which is a constant adjustment, a constant fall-and-recovery, these works are impossible to envision if we don’t allow ourselves to fall in the first place. Experimental creation demands that we get lost from time to time. Posing screendance as a question seems an interesting way to revisit some cinema classics, while being a strong tool to envision creation and innovation in that stream.

 

REFERENCES

Beach Party Animal. Aggiss, Liz and Murray, Joe. UK, 2012. Film.

Blaetz, Robin, ed. Women’s Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks, London: Duke University Press, 2007.

Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists, Oxon: Routeledge, 2002.

Carroll, Noël. “Toward a Definition of Moving-Picture Dance.”  International Journal of Screendance, 1 (Summer 2010). Accessed: September 2015. http://journals.library.wisc.edu/index.php/screendance/issue/view/37/showToc

Distant Wars. Edmunds, Becky. UK, 2013. Film.

If the Invader Comes. Dobowitz, Dan and O Conchuir, Fearghus. UK, 2014. Film.

Kappenberg, Claudia. The politics of discourse in hybrid art forms, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

Light Moves Festival of Screendance. Accessed: September 2015. http://www.lightmoves.ie/

Nation for Two. Hertog, Chaja and Nadler, Nir. Netherlands, 2012. Film.

Pearlman, Karen. Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit, Burlington: Foca Press, 2009.

Playtime. Tati, Jacques. France, 1967. Film.

Russian Ark. Sokurov, Alexander. Russia/Germany, 2002. Film.

Saute ma Ville. Akerman, Chantal. Belgium, 1968. Film

 Vanishing Point. Hecher, Beate and Keim, Markus. Austria, 2010. Film.

[1] Carroll, Toward a Definition of Moving-Picture Dance.

[2] Kappenberg, The politics of discourse.

[3] Ibid. 25.

[4] November 2014.

[5] Hecher and Keim.

[6] Hertog and Nadler.

[7] Aggiss and Murray.

[8] Sokurov.

[9] Tati.

[10] Edmunds.

[11] Dobowitz and O Conchuir.

[12] Maya Deren is of course one of the most famous and well known figure by the screendance community, but other great female artists and thinkers have contributed to both experimental film and screendance approaches/theories: Marie Menken, Yvonne Rainer, Amy Greenfield, and Chantal Akerman, or more recently Rosemary Lee, Marlene Millar, and Katrina McPherson, to name just a few.

[13] Blaetz, Women’s Experimental Cinema.

[14] For instance, the Videodance Festival of Burgundy (France), which also has an alternative curation signature had an academic panel constituted only of women for its last edition in May 2015.

[15] In addition to the Festival International de Vidéodanse de Bourgogne (France) mentioned above, one can also think of International Screendance Festival in Durham (USA) and Festival Itinerante Agite Y Sirva (Mexico), two other examples that gather alternate voices of theoreticians, practitioners, and curators at the heart of their curating preoccupations.

[16] Light Moves Festival.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Pearlman, Cutting Rhythms, 41.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Such as Temps/Travail (1999); On Animal Locomotion (1994).

[21] Chaudhuri, Shohini, Feminist Film Theorists, 69.

 

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Dance Hack #2

Dance HackIMG_4649DanceHackIMG_4647Dance Hack IMG_4566IMG_4650

This weekend The University of Brighton hosted a second Dance Hack. As last year’s Dance Hack #1 this was organised in partnership with Li   z Mischler from South East Dance and part of Brighton Digital. In difference to last year’s open approach we invited technologists and choreographers to submit seed ideas before hand and selected a few of those. We also invited students form the BA Performance and Visual Arts to join as observer-participants and formed a mixed group of 22 people. Given we had the large Sallis Benney Theatre at at disposal this was a good size group and gave enough space to play for the five clusters that formed in the course of the two days. We used the Friday afternoon to meet and great and to begin to brainstorm ideas and find common ground while the Saturday was used to work, play, explore and test visual, kinetic and technical possibilities. It was noticeable how highly skilled and knowledgeable everyone was, bringing bespoke interactive programmes and refined choreographic toolkits as well as being curious and generous. There was a lot of show and tell as well as new collaborations, and the Hack allowed for people to meet face to face who otherwise only know each other through the web. Even in the digital domain it seems useful to occasionally be in the same room.

It was interesting for me to catch up with this digital avant-garde and to realise how complex and subtle current interfaces and interactions are. Robin McNicolas from Marshmallow Laser Feast introduced us to faceshift for example, a face-mapping software which allows people control pretty much everything in a digital environment through facial muscles and head movements. Marshmallow Laser Feast’s collaboration with the Alexander Whitely Dance Company also premiered at the Old Market on Friday night and was a fine examples of a dialogue between bodies and light and playful choreographic spatial design. Alexander Whitley also joined the Dance Hack and explored looping and repetition of movement on screen to great effect. As technologies are becoming more responsive the dialogues between live bodies and their mediated and projected counterparts are becoming more interesting and complex; for example, a ‘simple’ gesture performed by Alexander became something else all together when repeated, multiplied and looped on screen – or at least the two elements play with our perception in a way that we read and associate very different things.

It also struck me how ‘real’ an experience of virtual space can be, particularly if our own movements are translated into the virtual space and technologies therefore make us believe that we have actually been ‘there’. Extraordinary that we cannot distinguish between mediated, virtual space and actual space, and that we form memories in similar ways. So yes, the potential of what all this can add to our experiences is huge.

Liz Mischler and I are curious to see what will come from these encounters and what else might sprout in the coming days and weeks. We will meanwhile go away and think where we go from here, and what a Dance Hack #3 might look like.

For a brief summery see live stream

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Embrace your foolishness

“By avoiding dancing, Shakespeare’s Jacques refuses the embrace of his own foolishness,” writes  in the Guardian in a review on dance on the big screen. And I would add that this aspect of dancing is gaining a new currency at a time when life is increasingly measured, standardised and accounted for. Read the full article;

The glorious folly of dance on film

From Singin’ in the Rain to The Full Monty and Strictly Ballroom, dance films celebrate our human capacity for improvised, limitless joy.
Michael Newton, The Guardian, Saturday 28 June 2014
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Une idée du mouvement – French filmmaker Germaine Dulac

 

An article on French filmmaker Germaine Dulac by Marion Carrot, posted on the SCREENDANCE STUDIES blog of the Festival International de Video Danse de Bourgogne;

Une idée du mouvement – Étude de quelques figures dansées dans la filmographie de Germaine Dulac.

via Une idée du mouvement – Étude de quelques figures dansées dans la filmographie de Germaine Dulac.

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French blog Digidanse

Nicolas Villodre (Collections, La Cinémathèque de la Danse, Paris) reviews After Deren, the new issue of the International Journal of Screendance, and comments on a recent discussion and presentation on Screendance at the Figures du geste dansé;  Digidanse

 

 

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Curating Constellations

Screendance makers and scholars often lament the lack of exhibition possibilities outside the common dance film festival format, that is annual competitive screenings that rarely diverge from a discipline-based curatorial approach and focus exclusively on new works of screendance. What might an alternative model look like? Papers and events have continued to revisit the question with varying degrees of success, exploring the setting and duration of screenings, as well as thematic programming, among others. On a recent visit to Liverpool’s Tate Modern, I was inspired by the exhibition ‘Constellations’, a show that organizes works of art into nine different ‘star clusters’, distinct sections arranged conceptually around one influential work designated as the ‘trigger’ :

…the displays offer a fresh way of viewing and understanding artworks through correspondences rather than chronological narrative.

 Acting as the originating ‘trigger’ of each constellation is one artwork that has been chosen for its revolutionary effect on modern and contemporary art. Each of these trigger works is displayed among artworks that relate to it, and to each other, across time and location of origin. Chosen for their similarity to, apparent difference from or transformation of the trigger work, each grouping creates an accumulation of relationships and meaning that extends the themes and concerns of the originating work. (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/display/dla-piper-series-constellations).

Imagine the exciting possibilities of experiencing screendance ‘constellations’ that engage in dialogue with one another across diverse eras, styles and formats. What would your first cluster of ‘stars’ look like? The ‘Constellations’ exhibition has certainly inspired me to reflect on alternative curatorial approaches that might allow my own work in screendance programming to provide audiences with a deeper and alternative exploration of the medium and its rich ongoing histories. For anyone interested in brainstorming further on the relationship between screendance and curatorial practices, the electronic journal OnCurating is an interesting resource: http://www.oncurating-journal.org. 

–Marisa C. Hayes

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