Dance on Camera: Angles for Consideration
Announcement: We’d like to welcome Emeri Fetzer, who will be a regular contributor to DancePulp. We’re delighted to have her writing for us and look forward to her contribution to the collective conversation on dance.
Each year, Dance Film Association, in partnership with The Film Society of Lincoln Center compiles a diverse and colorful selection of films to present at their Dance on Camera festival. This year (the 39th for DFA) was no different at participating New York City venues Baryshnikov Arts Center, Lincoln Center, Big Screen Project and the Beacon School. Dance on Camera offered film screenings, photo installations, lectures and exhibitions during from January 25 thru February 1.
Last Saturday evening, January 29, Dance on Camera showed a wide variety of films at the Walter Reade Theatre, some featuring choreography captured from new visual standpoints and one gripping documentary about the dying art of tightrope dancing in Armenia. The audience, full of film and dance savvy individuals, had the opportunity to meet many of the directors of the short films and to dialogue with them in a question and answer session following the screenings, which made for a lively exchange of visions and responses. While Saturday was only a sampling of the Dance on Camera offerings, it provided plenty to chew on.
“The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia,” the longest of the evening’s selections, examined the cultural practice of street performance that has so long been a part of life in Armenia, until recently when a lull in tightrope dancing provoked filmmaker Arman Yeritsyan to dig deep into the history of both the art form itself and the conflicted lives of those who perform. The resulting film was a touching and provocative look at cultural dance forms—posing the question of its worth in a world that pays consistently less attention.
“There is A Place” featured Tibetan born dancer Sang Jijia in an introspective solo incorporating text about mortality. The film was striking in its use of light and changing space, as the footage cut between Jijia in a closed room filled with chairs and in an open field. He manipulated his own body and never lost inner focus, mirroring the contemplative words as accompaniment.
“Portrait of An Acrobat” was a geometric puzzle of ever-changing lines and shapes, upon which acrobats, ballerinas, clowns and musicians played and interacted. A dizzying experience of myriad influences, this film’s circus feel, abstracted by lines and angles, left the eyes running to catch up.
“Hoop,” inspired by the endlessly cyclical motion of hula hooping, presented a black and white world of circles. The dancer, Rebecca Halls, made her own world inside these hoops. The film was a visual feast, of swirling tunnels and criss-crossing patterns, achieved through inventive camera angles and smart choreography. It brought to mind the particular types of dance that lend themselves well to the camera, opening new doors.
“Bow,” was the product of an Asian-European cultural exchange. The idea, explained by artists at the Festival, is that each individual culture develop movement material based on their own interpretation of the word “bow,” which are then melded to make the art piece. Three dancers in elaborate costumes moved almost meditatively in shadow, leaving an eerie but beautiful aftertaste. Because “Bow” was so short, it begged for development and follow-up projects.
The final film, “Ase” brought the series full circle with another look at dance as ritual, although this time from the Yoruba tradition of Trinidad and Tobago. Shot on location on a Canadian beach, the point of view was voyeuristic on a community ritual dance calling on the Orishas, Yoruba gods. The use of flags and fire painted an intimate setting of deep spiritual meanings. The night’s themes of cultural devotion, symbols, spirituality, and creative visual portrayal seemed neatly tied in this closing production.
Dance on Camera was a fascinating way to spend a New York evening. Clearly it is a hub of budding and blossoming ideas of all sorts, carefully grouped by Dance Film Association’s experts to entice as well as educate.
UPDATE: Dance Films Association later announced “Bow” as winner of Best Dance Film, and “The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia” as Best Documentary.