On February 12, 2015 the Wexner Center for the Arts presented Dance@30fps, an evening of contemporary dance film that included a selection of shorts from around the world, curated by OSU Department of Dance professor; filmmaker Mitchell Rose. We have been asked to write a review and post on our own sites, as an assignment for his class.
I’ll focus on two films here which for me, are markers of the festival– outside of the film by Boudewijn Koole “Off Ground” which was shown again as the reigning 2014 winner (I’ve seen nothing in contemporary dance film that marries the two genres as hauntingly beautiful and aesthetically pure as this).
The first film I’ll comment on was my vote for the evening, “Well Contested Sites” which explores the effects of incarceration on the body. A story created and filmed on Alcatraz Island from a collaboration between a group of men who were previously incarcerated, Bay Area performing artists, choreographer Amie Dowling and filmmaker Austin Forbord. The lighting in the film is stunning- daylight pours into the dilapidated building making a brightness here which exists only because of the structure’s demise – light shone on the stains and shadows, metal to cold thick walls gouged and chipped, the blaring silence and the traces of punishment, of time. Often, the camera supplied the movement while bodies remained in repetition or stillness, with expert use of non-human material to outline the human form, the bodies seemed to be made into inanimate objects. A visual, rhythmic grid was sustained throughout made of lighting, of bars, of floor, of movement and gesture, of spatial pathway in shots where objects are in the foreground and animal-like movement, fluidity of human is behind and thereby revealed as alive in the contrasting obstruction of their image in our field. The use of blur, the out-of-focus, the unseen – at one point a body is suspended near the ceiling, it drops as the shot cuts and no sound of landing is heard – the body is silenced, disappeared- these speak to the issues of the film. The formation of a non-formation carries the men into an irregular flocking march of falling, lifts and rolling. Connection to other is not violent here and the dance itself seemed to support the men in the severity of the environment’s context, it seemed to hold them safely in a foreboding look at their memory, among the memories seared into the deteriorating structure of the institution – of body, of Alcatraz, of society.
The second film I’ll speak to is “Sonata”, directed by Nadia Micault with choreography by Fernando Carrion Caballero & Émilia Giudicelli. The website for this animated film describes the theme: “In an imaginary musical world, a young woman seeks escape, loses herself and tests her own limits. Gradually she must open up in order to reinvent herself.” I’m not sure this level of context was created by the moving lines that transformed the female figure to eyes and hands, smoke, fire, liquid, to changing lines and form that echo the musicality and emotion of the classical work to which it is drawn. The curves of the body in continual motion create an accrued memory of space that instills a sense of depth, of time, of affect. The lines and shapes often look like spilled wine as they seep out and retract to unfold the narrative in a flow of images initiated by the music. It looks like motion capture software was used, but I’m not quite sure. I wonder briefly if at the onset this animation came from a dance or if the dance is made of the animation. I spent most of the time feeling the affective tugging of the music and lush images, but was lulled into trance by the sameness and highly bothered by the fact that the female figure had no genitals. She was obviously nude, the form delicately detailed with breasts, nipples, ankle bones, eyelashes, even a soft line diving in to create the cheeks of her ass – but no labia, no opening, no sex. Maybe it is a comment on the contemporary notion of ambiguity in sexuality and gender, a nod to trans studies and all sex beings, but then not so much. That lens was not here. It seems either the creators just couldn’t quite get the detail right, so they gave the figure a Barbie doll-like smooth area, which is to me a disturbing jolt when viewing the film… or maybe they found it too offensive to see the spread of sex across the screen. Though, given the prescribed narrative that seems off line.
I found myself wondering something I heard an audience member say out loud at the end of the evening’s films which included “Slow” in which a man is dragged lying face down across a changing scene for the duration, and “Birds” which was actually stock footage of birds edited together : “It’s funny how little actual dance is present in dance film”.