A Foray into Dances for Camera

By Kat Cole

Under an overcast sunrise, a stampede of people charge up a hill. The grass is wet, possibly from a nighttime shower, and the mud sucks and spits as each bare foot hurdles from step to step. With a steady sound of elbows, shoulders and toes hitting the earth, bodies fling to the mud like salmon hurling upstream. Relinquishing to gravity’s pull, they softly roll downhill, their summer dresses and white suit shirts sopping up the green trail of their descent.

The first thirty-three seconds of Pascal Magnin’s “Queens for a Day” have the kind of fervent energy and visual intrigue that could make any dance film fancier’s heart skip a beat. A few years ago, as a film dilettante watching this during my first foray into dance for camera, Milan’s work was an unintended muse. There was something about the concoction of dance and film that was exciting for me. The camera’s ability to frame my perception of movement and transport me to the Alps of Switzerland was intoxicating.

While the genre itself is not new (one could go back as far as Annabelle Moore’s 1895 “Serpentine Dance”), dance film as a medium is gaining increased recognition as an innovative and accessible forum for dance. Take the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, or ODC Theater’s annual Pilot series, which recently hosted residencies for dance filmmakers in mentorship with acclaimed Los Angeles dance filmmaker Carrie Ann Shim Sham, not to mention Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, who worked with San Francisco choreographers and dancers for his minotaur-seducing music video, “A New Life.”  Nationally, University of Utah recently rolled out a Graduate Screendance Certificate, while dozens of dance film festivals are popping up around the world — all highlighting the growing demand for and practice of crafting dance for camera.

Transformation happens twice in the making of a dance film: once during the choreographing of the dance and again during the editing of the film. In my collaborations creating dances for camera with Eric Garcia, the lens creatively disrupts our normal choreographic process. It introduces another dancer in the work.  We must constantly conjure shots, angles and close-ups as detailed and with as much intention as we would craft any choreographic bodily movement.  The camera also works as an objective third eye, providing us with a certain distance necessary to evaluate and experiment with the piece even after it’s filmed. This editing process provides us with the freedom to alter the composition in various ways–change the order of shots, remove material, experiment with visual effects—which adds an additional layer of storytelling to the final work.

Then there’s the accessibility of film, which can be a huge advantage to any artist. In this techno-savvy age, the ability for a film to go viral via video sharing websites like YouTube and Vimeo can generate both a global audience for the viewing of work as well as a global community of artists working around the craft.  Our films have enabled us to push contemporary dance into new conversations, especially ones that involved other artists like painters, documentarians and musicians in a way that we usually can’t onstage due to limited resources.  And yes, resources are definitely a point of consideration; touring internationally with a cast of fifteen can be exponentially more difficult financially than sharing a dance film internationally with fifteen performers in it.  Through curating a film festival and being part of other festivals, I’ve felt the vibrancy of this genre from Istanbul to São Carlos, and I revel in the immediacy with which this genre can instigate trans-continental conversations among budding and established artists, dance audiences and non-dance audiences, alike.

My ventures into dance filmmaking continue to be a fresh way for me to view and review dance, and disrupt the proscenium format I’ve grown accustomed to in the theater.  Minutia can be glorified and enlarged on the screen, dancers can jump in and out of sight without diving into the wings, and public spaces can be transformed into palettes for art that can then be preserved digitally. The magic of film translates into new territories for dance-making.

Kat Cole and Eric Garcia, artistic directors of detour dance, are launching the first Tiny Dance Film Festival this July 26-27, 2013 at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center. It will feature contemporary and experimental films from across the globe. For more information visit www.detourdance.com/TDFF.