A Conversation on Dance On Camera 2015
Following the 2015 Dance On Camera Festival at Lincoln Center last week, Anna Rogovoy and I engaged in a lengthy email chain on what we saw and experienced. Sit in on our conversation, and share your own reactions with us in the comments:
EF: The content is so well rounded at Dance on Camera. I really feel like it is a breath of fresh air from the NYC stage scene every year. I’ve been going religiously for the past 4 years. It surprises me that more young dancers are not in attendance, actually. Where are all the dance students from Juilliard and NYU? When I saw Ballet Boys the audience was primarily people over 50, but the film is about teen ballet dancers and it was so relatable to the struggles of starting a career in performance. I could think of so many people off the top of my head who would have liked it. What is your take on the environment of the festival?
AR: First of all, I agree that the festival is exceptionally curated. It feels like a comprehensive survey of what’s happening in dance film, and is smartly structured. I loved going to a double feature on Friday night of two (very different) documentaries about two (very different) dancemakers — Jiri Kylian and Meredith Monk. It was enjoyably academic, and there were a good number of students present, particularly for Girlchild Diary (the Monk documentary). What do you think an older audience took away from Ballet Boys, which you’ve described as a more youthful story?
EF: Oh man, I mean, I’m such a sucker for the documentary form. In Ballet Boys you got the universal satisfaction of human storytelling. Simply put, it’s about young people who have dreams but are conflicted by their social dynamics, families, skill level, and questions of practicality. I was watching it and immediately relating to my own sacrifices for my own plans. Ultimately, we all have this moment that appears in Ballet Boys, where we have to either leave someone behind or we get left behind. That alone choked me up. Add to that the intricate vocabulary of classical ballet (and we all know that its an unbeatable art, one that just demands, demands, demands) and the film made for a tense environment full of questions of ” is it worth it?” And that is of course, a very personal question. If the rest of the audience was anything like me, they were just cheering for these dedicated young talents. Not only cheering for their success in their field but their growth into healthy, happy people. I felt very similarly about the documentary First Position. You want them to make it, but you aren’t sure what happens to them once they reach the top of their mountain. As you grow up, you realize that reaching your goals does not automatically equal fulfillment and contentment. It’s bittersweet.
AR: I didn’t see any films over the weekend, and I’m curious what that crowd was like, since it’s a more accessible time for students and those with standard 9-5’s. Overall, I was really impressed by the number of related events, free events, the gallery space, the total experience.
EF: That’s true, the weekend is definitely more high-yield. I know the Shorts program is typically pretty well attended. It’s always the shorts that make me feel like, “I want to get into this more, maybe I want to make a dance film…” I’ve thought multiple times about getting involved with the Dance Films Lab that DFA offers. I feel that the medium of dance film is more and more popular as a means to present work. Do you feel that perhaps unlike some stage presentations the general public would be more likely to understand/relate to dance on film?
AR: I think there’s a lot to be said for the literal accessibility of dance films. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection and a slight interest has the ability to discover work in this form. Dance for camera also seems inherently collaborative in a way that concert dance isn’t necessarily, and collaboration is such a hot ticket right now! A dance film might appeal to a visual artist, a cinematographer, a sound designer, a landscape architect — there are so many points of entry.
EF: And I think even the dance world is becoming increasingly aware that without this kind of documentation (even if it is just for archival purposes), there is a danger of extinction. There is, certainly, much debate around that… it’s a bigger conversation for sure. It was so fun to go to Ghostline and Other Celluloid Antics as a full team. I liked Ghostline as a short piece just standing alone. It was so eerie and dreamlike. I would have liked it even without context I think. But they framed it in a way that spoke so in depth about its influences from dance history.
AR: Oh, but it’s also so enriched by film history! When we saw Ghostline next to all those beautiful Buster Keaton and Hans Richter and James Broughton shorts, I was acutely aware of this rich tradition of movement-based silent films. Which takes us back to the idea that film can be a “gateway” to concert dance, and knowledge of concert dance…I’ve been reading about old-school tappers like the Nicholas Brothers, who really did do both — they filmed over fifty movies, and would do amazing shows at the Cotton Club in Harlem — so there’s already a history of dance in film that can draw in different audiences. Of course if I watch Ghostline with an understanding of (creator) Cori Olinghouse’s movement background, her career with Trisha Brown and her work with Bill Irwin, then yes, I have a specific context and I’m seeing certain details and maybe appreciating something referential here and there. But I can watch the Nicholas Brothers in “Stormy Weather” without in-depth knowledge of tap and be blown away. I don’t know if I addressed your question! I think what I want to say is that dance on camera feels like a hybrid form that provides multiple points of entry for audiences with all sorts of backgrounds. Does that make sense?
EF: Totally. And I was thrilled that the idea of comedy was brought up in the talkback. Cori asked: “Why do we omit humor and comedy from the postmodern tradition?” It’s something I’ve thought about quite often when seeing dance. A few companies never shy away from humor, even though it can be quite difficult to achieve though pure movement. Monica Bill Barnes is the first choreographer that pops into my mind. It was so refreshing to be reminded of how Buster Keaton was able to achieve such seamless comedy through actually quite simple formulas. And it’s timeless.
AR: Did you think Ghostline was funny?
EF: In fleeting moments, yes. I was struck more by how Shona Masarin’s frame-by-frame filming placed this modern work in such an incredibly nostalgic environment.
AR: One thing I noticed in all three films I saw was a very evocative treatment of place. In the Jiri Kylian documentary, which was so wonderfully straightforward, we got these amazing street views of the Hague, really situating us in Kylian’s daily life. One of my favorite moments was a simple shot of the corner of his bicycle tire peeking around the corner of the door to the NDT studios. He rides his bike to work! He leaves it outside the building! He’s just like us! And in the Meredith Monk documentary, which included so much great performance footage, there was this lovely natural divide between working places: studios, theaters, St. Mark’s Church, almost all in metropolitan areas; and resting places: the country homes and farms of Monk and her collaborators, all in upstate New York.
EF: It’s so nice to see these artists as just people in places, right? It makes you feel close to them.
AR: It’s a strange thing, how film can bring us closer to an artist than seeing him or her perform live. In some ways that seems counterintuitive, but at the same time, the medium allows for a more intimate vantage point. I think dance can benefit so much from this.