An Interview with Videographer Loren R. Robertson

The first time I came across Loren Robertson was in 2009 when she designed a video backdrop for a piece I danced in at CounterPULSE. Then last December I saw her perform in Jesse Hewit’s “Freedom” at Z-Space. This past February she videoed a piece I performed in at The Garage. Design, dance, or documentation, Robertson seemed to be on all sides of the video camera. I got in touch with her to learn more about her video practice.

Emmaly Wiederholt: How did you get into videography and recording dance?

Loren Robertson: In college I took a dance composition class about video and performance, and to technically prepare myself for the class I took a workshop on the basics of Final Cut Pro (the industry’s main editing software).  I was surprised at how effective I was with the editing program and soon fell in love with the medium of the moving image.  That summer of 2004 I went to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival as a video intern.  It was at the Pillow that I was whipped into shape with my technical shooting skills and given experience in high-caliber dance documentation and general know-how, while also learning to appreciate archival work (the archives at Jacob’s Pillow are unprecedented).  I finished up my undergrad studying film with an emphasis on video production alongside my dance degree.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2007, I knew I wanted to document performance in the Bay Area.  I started out working at CounterPULSE where I immediately built professional and personal relationships with many individual artists and dance/theater companies.  I had I-must-do-everything-that-sparks-my-interest syndrome while working 3 jobs and after a couple years decided to really focus on videography as an excellent, important and self-sustaining service and officially started my business, Loren R. Robertson Productions.

That’s my little chronological story. However, I can remember performing a piece in school (it was Trisha Brown’s Set/Reset) when I was incredibly dropped into my body. I had been honing presence; I had a deep relationship with how gravity worked on my body and was so clear in my movement. It was one of those moments where time relaxes and when I stepped onstage I felt everything: how the air brushed through my transparent clothing, my hair against my skin and my face, the bridge of my nose, the sides of my calves, where the energy was and where it was headed. The ease was magic, and I felt the specificity of truly experiencing NOW.  Most performers have had a handful of these moments; they are so fleeting and impactful (often for both performer and viewer).  Needless to say, when I watched the video documentation later on, all that was left of that precious moment was a fuzzy dot on the screen (the camera was out of focus, unnecessarily wide and completely unmoving from the back of the house).  It carried absolutely no semblance of my experience of that dance.

Of course, video never can capture the live experience.  But the effort of moving toward capturing it, the live thing, the ephemeral moment that breathes and has its own life/body/impetus, is something that I understand on a gut level.  Perhaps there is inherent failure in the effort, but I do know that having good documentation is certainly something that preserves or honors it (or at least helps it get more funding!).

EW: Can you share your perspective seeing show after show through the lens of a camera? Do you feel it affects the way you see dance? When you are videoing a dance piece, do you stay engaged in the piece or do you focus mainly on the technical aspects of videoing?

LR: It’s true, I don’t see the performance the way the rest of the audience does.  I’m present with it in a different way, constantly adjusting the camera to movement, lighting changes (you’d be surprised how many lighting shifts the eye automatically and quietly adjusts to it), sound level shifts, focus shifts, people entering or exiting.  I like to think of the frame(s) dancing or breathing with the piece.  In this way I’m in tune with the shifts, transitions, musicality and energetic flow of the performance. However there is so much I don’t see until post-production.  Thankfully, I’m equally in tune with my equipment so that the technical adjustments are pretty second nature.  Sometimes, especially with multiple camera shoots, I am even more intimate with the performance than the audience due to my proximity via the camera lens, and I am able to capture and witness subtle gesture, facial expression, or people sweating and breathing.  However, it is not until editing (full pieces, promotional or highlight videos, and work samples) that I get up close and personal with narrative or larger structure and content intellectually.

EW: How has viewing so many shows through your camera lens influenced your personal approach to work as an artist?

You know, I don’t think it has had any obvious impact.  Shooting performance and watching it are such different experiences for me, and performing itself is a completely different animal.  Of course, knowing what people are making, witnessing different kinds of artists and their approaches to making and producing performance does give me more knowledge of my own performance’s context and how it fits into what’s happening in the Bay Area performing arts scene.  But honestly, that’s not why I’m personally drawn to performing.  When I perform, it’s more out of curiosity of the experience itself and being fully immersed in my body.  Rather, my work as an artist informs my skill behind the camera.

EW: Do you see yourself as a preserver of dance? What significance/importance is documentation to a dance’s life?

LR: Absolutely! Video documentation of performance is almost always essential. I think self-producing artists and smaller companies sometimes forget this in the crazy pre-production and production of a show.  But after the show’s over and the dust settles, what’s left are hopefully some good still shots, maybe some press, of course the memory of it and….video!  Hopefully the video holds some of its life intact because this is the most effective record from a marketing perspective to funders, potential future audiences, potential producers, and from a personal and creative perspective to add to your portfolio and share with performers, collaborators, family or just to look back on and be proud of. The moving image paired with high-quality professional documentation and editing are powerful tools, especially on the internet, in representing art.

In terms of large scale archives, at the moment in the Bay Area there isn’t much funding and/or organizing to compile dance documentation.  The Dance Heritage Coalition and BAVC have been working together in creating a digital repository of dance archival records in testbed phase with web access.  This kind of thing is happening here and there around the US (including Jacob’s Pillow of course), but it’s a huge undertaking.

Meanwhile, Loren R. Robertson Production’s approach is to empower each artist/company to have their own archives. Every once in a while after a show or event that I’ve documented I wonder where the video of it will end up in 100, 200 years or even 10 years.  It gives me the chills. When I have the privilege of putting together content for shows, events, or organizations for the web (see some examples below), I’m pleased to know it’s preserved for some time online and it’s also ACCESSIBLE (a key part of the power of this tool).


For more videos, see/”Like” Loren R. Robertson Production’s facebook page

Photo by Aleksey Bochkovsky

2 Responses to “An Interview with Videographer Loren R. Robertson”

  1. Xt Funsch

    I’d love to see this published in In Dance. Loren does such incredible, thoughtful work for so many of us. Time to celebrate her!

  2. bayareadancewatch

    Everytime I see Ms Loren Roberston at one of our dance performances…I know I’m in the right place. And if you’re lucky, you might see this beautiful smile break thru this cloud of concentration, before the videoing begins…

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