Sept/Oct 2008 DOC Journal

Alla Kovgan & David Hinton create a stellar dance film NORA in Mozambique with Bessie award-winner Nora Chipaumire NORA is a breakthrough dance film commissioned by the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), directed by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton, based on the life of Nora Chipaumire. The 35- minute film was shot entirely in Mozambique on the border of Zimbabwe, where Chipaumire was born and spent her childhood. Returning to the landscape and memories of her early life, Chipaumire and the filmmakers use dance to bring history to life in a swiftly moving poem of sound and image. The result is a very unusual film about family dramas, difficult love affairs, and militant politics, weaving the joyful and the mournful, as the heroine battles intimidation and violence to gather strength, pride and independence. NORA filmmakers Kovgan and Hinton write, “Nora’s story is full of drama, but we wanted to tell it not as a dramatist would, but as a poet would. We wanted something more rapid, vivid, and economical than conventional drama—something that combined clarity of storytelling with density of meaning…. Dance was perfect for our purposes. It allowed us to give unusual rhythms to narrative, and invent different ways to tell stories.” Founded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, EMPAC launched the DANCE MOViES Commission program in 2007 made possible with a generous grant from the Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and the Performing Arts to support the creation of new works in which dance meets the technologies of the moving image. As the first major commissioning program of its kind established in the US since the demise of Alive From Off Center in the early nineties, the DANCE MOViES commission is having a significant national and international impact, making the creation of new works possible, and inspiring artists in the field to form new collaborations. NORA will make its NYC premiere in DFA’s 37th Dance on Camera Festival on January 7, 2009. Please applaud the innovative initiatives of EMPAC’s staff. Johannes Goebel, Director, holds a tenured position as professor in the Arts Department and in the School of Architecture. He is the founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at the Zentrum fr Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany. Kathleen Forde is the Curator for Time-Based Arts at the EMPAC. She has also curated exhibitions and performances on a freelance basis for various organizations that have included the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, NY; Independent Curators International; VideoZone, Tel Aviv; ATA Cultural, Peru; Kunstverein in Dusseldorf and Cologne; Transmediale Festival, Berlin and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Dance Curator Hélène Lesterlin, a longtime DFA member, is a director, choreographer, performer and curator. Hélène founded ATLAS Dance in 2005 for her own creative and curatorial projects, and premiered ‘Praxis’, her most recent dance theater work, at HERE in NYC. In 2006, she co-curated and co-produced the Gilded Pony Performance Festival in Troy. She has received 1999-2000 Luce Fellowship to pursue her work in performance and choreography for a year in Taipei. While in Asia, she performed with two contemporary dance companies, created dances, studied tai chi, calligraphy and Chinese, and traveled extensively in the region. Hélène holds a BA in Art (sculpture/performance) from Yale College and an MFA in Dance from Bennington College. Also premiered at EMPAC’s Gala opening on October 5th were the three other commissioned movies KINO-EYE, VETERANS and PH PROPIEDAD HORIZONTAL. Directed by Joby Emmons, choreographed by Elena Demyanenko (USA), KINO-EYE (8 minutes) shadows a dancer through the public and private realms of contemporary Moscow. VETERANS (18 minutes) directed/choreographed by Victoria Marks, directed/edited by Margaret Williams (USA/UK) who collaborated previously on OUTSIDE IN, MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS, and MEN, features five young veterans attempting to make peace with their military service. Performed and co-created by vets from the West Los Angeles VA combat rehab/ PTSDclinic. PH PROPIEDAD HORIZONTAL (10 minutes) created by David Fariás, Carla Schillagi and Maria Fernanda Vallejos (Argentina) puts dancers in a narrow passageway to create an elegant, abstract, and livelypiece of pure movement and form. Trans-Continental Dance Collaborative takes to the streets of Berlin On July 16th 2008, Robin Cantrell and Mira Cook descended on Berlin, Germany to begin work on the initial leg of their Trans-Continental Dance Collaborative (TCDC), a project developed to pair the collaborators’ love of dance and video. The project began with the desire to travel the world for one year, capturing the two performers, along with native dancers, moving in the unique landscapes of various countries. However, both Robin and Mira have acquired work touring abroad with dance companies, such as Battery Dance Company. This prompted a re-formatting of the TCDC mission so that filming will be done in accordance with their touring schedules. First stop: Berlin. The two spent a week traversing the city, along with Alexis Rea, a principal member of City Ballet of San Diego. The dancers filmed their improved movement at the garden of the Jewish Museum, a remaining segment of the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag and its surrounding waterways, fountains, and contemporary buildings, the famous East Berlin T.V. Tower, the picturesque Tiergarten, and countless museums. As a juxtaposition to these dominant points of interest, the threesome also sought out graffiti covered walls, subway stations and inner city playgrounds. Each location lent itself to a specific movement style. Choreography was composed on site, although improvisation was encouraged as well. The result for TCDC, was a new understanding of the city. Berlin became a stage, its streets and buildings the sets for endless dance performances. See the initial result of the Berlin shoot at: TCDC would like to thank Bart Ziegler, patron of the arts, for their support. You can view more of their videos at: and at Dance on Camera Festival 2009 Jury As the Dance on Camera Festival falls into place, DFA has assembled a distinguished 5-member jury to decide the winner of the 2009 Jury Prize. Caterina Bartha is the Executive Director of Doug Varone and Dancers. From 2003 –08 she served as Company Director for Bebe Miller Company and from 1994-2008 for Jane Comfort and Company. A curator, producer, and founding member of Collective:Unconscious, she has produced the work of Karen Finley and Annie Sprinkle, the Collective for Loving Cinema Series and the UNDERGROUNDZERO Theater Festival. Michael Cole danced with David Gordon, Mark Dendy, Ton Simons, Peter Pucci, Bill Young, Robert Kovich, and others. From 1989-1998, Michael danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He wom the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and earning Masters Degrees in Dance and Technology and Computer Arts. His computer-animated dance videos have been screened at film festivals in Japan, Argentina, Scotland, Moscow, Naples, Dance on Camera Festival, and the International Dance and Technology Conference. Lois Greenfield began her career as a photojournalist but was drawn to the graphic potential of dance. For twenty years she covered the experimental dance scene for the Village Voice. In 1982, she opened a studio where she could control the lighting, but could also collaborate with the dancers to create unexpected imagery. Her unique approach to photographing the human form in motion has radically redefined the genre, and influenced a generation of photographers. Tere O’Connor has been making dances since 1982 and has created over 30 works for his company which has performed throughout the US and in Europe, South America and Canada. O’Connor has created numerous commissioned works for the Lyon Opera Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, de Rotterdamse Dansgroep, Holland; Carte Blanche, Norway; TRAFO/The Workshop Foundation, Hungary; for Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux in Montreal; Dance Alloy in Pittsburgh, PA; and Zenon in Minneapolis, MN. Madeleine Shapiro is a cellist, producer of chamber music concerts, and teacher. She is the founding director of ModernWorks, an ensemble formed in 1997 to perform and commission recent chamber works for strings, performs as a solo recitalist throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America, and directs the Contemporary Music Ensemble at the Mannes College of Music. Celebrating Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for 75 years of dancing on film by Helena Axelrod Seventy-five years ago Fred Astaire astounded audiences around the world with a quality of dancing never before seen on the movie screen. Astaire, together with Ginger Rogers, showed that cinematic dancing can convey complex emotions ranging from joy through sensuality to despair. This came from Astaire’s innovative choreography, specifically adapted to film, and belief that dancing can be trusted to communicate on its own without intrusive camerawork. He insisted that dancing be presented in full figure, continuously from start to finish, and with a minimum of cuts and reaction shots to preserve its flow. Furthermore, the transitions between ordinary movement and dance were blurred deliberately to make us believe that dance could arise spontaneously and inevitably from ordinary actions in an ordinary setting. Dance could naturally occur in a living room, while a man is dressing, and it was logical that furniture and household objects became stages and props. This may seem obvious, but it was a radically different approach in the early 1930’s. The brief glimpses of Astaire and Rogers dancing were first seen in FLYING DOWN TO RIO released Dec. 31, 1933. The audience response to their 90 seconds of dance together, and another 60 seconds of an Astaire solo, was so tremendous that they stole the picture. In October of 1934, they fully emerged as the best known and best loved dancing team on film in THE GAY DIVORCEE. It also featured Astaire’s first choreographed romantic duet to “Night and Day” by Cole Porter, and the first dances that incorporated furniture. This was when Astaire and Rogers became cultural icons. In commemoration of the most famous dancing team on film, and Astaire’s 110th birthday, fans and scholars in many locations throughout the US and Europe, and perhaps beyond, have started to make plans for 2009. These plans range from staging film festivals and internet events, to local celebrations consisting of library displays, live performances, and film parties. Everyone with an appreciation of the dancing stars is invited to participate. The website has been set up to help stimulate, generate, share, and list celebrations. We expect that the celebrations will stimulate new interest in the artistry of Astaire and Rogers, and bring new audiences to these masters of the dance. Please join us. Your ideas and involvement are welcomed. Meaning and Movement: an inside look at DV8 by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko Earlier this October, DV8 Physical Theatre was in town premiering their latest staged work, “ To Be Straight with You,” as a part of the Peak Performance Series at Montclair State University. Led by Lloyd Newson since 1986, DV8 has been acclaimed as one of the UK’s leading performance companies, equally investigating Dance and Video, challenging traditions in dance to create meaningful movement. Their mission is about “taking risks, aesthetically and physically, about breaking down the barriers between dance, theatre and personal politics and, above all, communicating ideas and feelings clearly and unpretentiously. It is determined to be radical yet accessible, and to take its work to as wide an audience as possible. The focus of the creative approach is on reinvesting dance with meaning, particularly where this has been lost through formalized techniques.” This statement of purpose resonates with me as a dance video artist who strives to do the same in my work. I use DV8 as model from which to learn. THE COST OF LIVING one of their more recent films is a strong blend of theatre, clown, and dance all happening inside the camera lens. In this film, like in much of Newson’s work, I feel that he understands not only how the body moves, but also how the camera moves best to capture it. So when I heard the company was in town auditioning for their next performance season, of course, I took the opportunity to be closer to these artists. A sea of dance bodies stretch over studio 5 of the New Dance Group Studios in Midtown Manhattan. Mr. Newson and his entourage of physical actors enter the room. He makes a brief introductory speech to give some history to his work and to welcome everyone who has come out for their shot to perform with his company. He says clearly “Some of you will be overlooked; this is the nature of auditions.” Should this happen, he encourages the dancers to create short videos that showcase their best work, put them online, and send DV8 a link to the videos at dv8@artsadmin. Sunlight tumbles into the room, across the floor, and onto his face creating a glossy effect against his skin. He seems to be a humble but serious man, medium height, perhaps 5’9” with a bald head. His concern is maintaining the perfect cast for DV8’s upcoming international tour with dates in Paris, London and Stockholm. The group of 200 is quickly broken up into smaller groups.  I decide to go with the second group into a studio that is smaller than my living room. I figure I might have a better chance at being seen in a smaller space. But I cannot concentrate. I hate auditions. Something about the word audition makes me want to pull my nails out of their tips. I have never been good at showcasing myself well in this format. So I don’t bother. Furthermore, I’m not here looking for a job. I’m here to be closer to these artists. Perhaps, before the day is done, some of their kinesthetic brilliance will leap into me. A rainbow of nationalities walks throughout the studios. Bags and street clothes and water bottles create intricate sculptures climbing the corners of the studios. I recognize dancers from years ago. I want to mix and mingle. Give hugs. I want to step outside of myself, outside of the dancing, the sweat, the brit-hop music that Ira Mandela Slobhan (a DV8 company member and the audition leader for my group) is playing, to watch myself and everyone else take in this experience. So many dance bodies in one room, so many heavy hitters from New York and Philadelphia’s physical theater communities, and yet the space remains surprisingly modest. Slobhan leads my group into a Cunningham inspired warm-up followed by a classic tombe, pas de bourree across the floor, and when Mr. Newson and his assistant enters the room to begin their first round of cuts, I simply step out to save myself the embarrassment. I join the excitement of another class and learn that each one is totally different. Class 1 is deeply engaged in an improvisation exercise while Class 3 is involved in a ballet center phrase that might frighten members of American Ballet Theater. But even with the short end of the stick, Class 3 has some beautiful, fearless movers in the bunch. Paul Singh, who I wonder is even human, leaps and jumps like a triathlon athlete. Very clean lines, and a warm personality, he was one of the first faces I recognized when I entered the space this morning. I’m completely jealous of his ability. After each new section of the audition process, another cut is made. By 2pm, the eager 200 has become an exhausted but hungry 60. When it is time to make yet another cut, Newson’s assistant smiles at each dancer she no longer needs, looks them in the eyes, and says “thank you” which basically translates into “go home.” And even still, considering all the anxiety and pure effort that has been given throughout the day, the air is not thick. All the dancers I talk to about their experience have only good things to say. Hallie Dalsimer, a dancer who moved to NYC in 2006, has never seen DV8 live, but is very familiar with their film work. She says she appreciated the company’s honesty and humility, and although it was crowded, she thought they led an adequate warm-up and audition. She exits the New Dance Group warehouse space, and enters back into her everyday. After the audition, it is understood that only a handful might be called back. NYC is only one stop in a series of cities for DV8. Each with its own eager 200 stretching their legs across marley floors, perfecting their tendus, all the while admiring the light dancing across Mr. Newson’s face. Ben Dolphin’s Dance on Camera Workshop offers an arsenal of information by Yara Travieso On September 13th a group of dancers and choreographers all gathered together for a dance film workshop. After exploring the possibilities of the film medium with respect to dance, they left with an arsenal of information to begin storyboarding their next creations. The most inspiring element of the workshop was the electric and eloquent instructor, Ben Dolphin who has had an extensive career as both a dancer/choreographer and director/ cinematographer. He superbly bridges the two worlds of dance and film. With the generous support of Cinemagic Stages International and Technological Cinevideo Services Inc., DFA presented a day-long workshop, running from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the epic Cinemagic Stage. The film studio provided top of the line resources available to the participants, such as 2 state of the art Digital Cameras and Monitors, a Phantom HD High Speed Digital Camera for demonstrations, a full inventory of film lighting and grip equipment with dimmers and dollies, lights from 20K to 200W, and a studio manager to set up the lights for demonstration purposes. Understanding that dancers are physical learners, Dolphin structured the workshop as an interactive lab, where participants took turns in directing, lighting, performing, working the camera, and driving the dolly. Actively playing these roles, the participants were asked to make artistic choices in their vision concerning point of view, velocity of actions, camera movement, among many others. Ben Dolphin, once a dancer/choreographer, has worked for Twyla Tharp, Alwin Nikolais, and Martha Graham Company. After an injury at age 26, he became a stage lighting designer, later applying the same skill to the screen as a cinematographer/director with an acclaimed commercial career of over thirty years. He taught a semester-length course called Choreography for Camera at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Dance Department for 14 years. Now a director/director of photography/choreographer, Dolphin is able to clearly communicate to artists of all fields, honed from years of collaborating with a wide variety of professionals who work under tight time constraints. Eagerly shifting about the studio like a 6-year-old in Disney World, Dolphin delved into developing our sense of knowing how to select a lens depending on the desired movement quality. He emphasized the importance of using a wide angle lens to create more depth in the dancer’s movement as opposed to the telephoto long lens which is a better choice for more compressed action and less depth of field. Dolphin also addressed topics such as time compression and extension, story-boarding, editorial options, performance for film/digital, cutting on a movement, final format selection, and creating an arsenal of shots. Many a time, Dolphin urged us to consider the connection between what we see and how we feel and to grasp the principles that you have control over. Once you have become aware of that ever changing connection between the eyes and emotions, you are prepared to direct a film crew to create a visual experience that is emotionally satisfying for your needs. He also stressed the need to anticipate the viewer’s response and drive the attention to what you want. He also showed how you can change the speed of the camera in one motion to create more of a sense of velocity and dynamics, to suspend the jump, for example. Necessary for the future of dance, these tools allow the choreographers of tomorrow to make informed artistic decisions in their work with film. One of the workshop participants, choreographer Miro Magloire reflected on his experience: “The ability to capture or re-imagine choreography for the screen may be one of the most important assets for a choreographer in the 21st century. Ben Dolphin’s workshop gave me an invaluable introduction to the subject thanks to his knowledge, experience and infectious enthusiasm.” This comprehensive workshop has opened creative doors for all the participants. “The possibilities are endless in dance and film, especially if you know what you’re talking about. Now I do!” Amanda McAlister, choreographer. Furthermore, I myself assisted the workshop as an eager choreographer and student at the Juilliard School. Like everyone else, I did not know what to expect, yet, I gained an opportunity to work with top of the line equipment, learned the essential fundamentals of film and movement, and am now under the mentorship of Ben Dolphin himself. This experience and Dolphin’s generous knowledge has propelled me into the fantastic world that is dance on camera and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. Dolphin is currently working with DFA to develop a series of these eye opening workshops. He is also contributing to the New Museum for Contemporary Art dance on camera program on November 7th and 8th with both his video ARISING, accompanied by his ensemble and a live multimedia performance, “On Arising” in which I am dancing. Save the dates and come see us. Olivier Assayas’ ELDORADO/Preljocaj Review by Dalienne Majors At the French Institute/Alliance Française, Olivier Assayas introduced his two-film project, ELDORADO: CREATION AND PERFORMANCE, as his first attempt filming dance at the invitation of Anjelin Preljocaj. Noted for his popular films IRMA VEP, L’HEURE D’ETE, BOARDING GATE, and PARIS, JE T’AIME, Assayas accomplishes the two films with two cameras operated by himself and Yorick LeSaut. Preljocaj was invited by avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen to collaborate on a dance to Stockhausen’s music, “Sonntag Abscheid.” Preljocaj previously choreographed Helikopter with music by Stockhausen in 2001. Preljocaj’s “Eldorado” collaboration with Stockhausen and Assayas was timely as the project was completed the year before Stockhausen’s death in December 2007. Retrospectives of Stockhausen’s music have been taking place this year in Europe and the United States. Stockhausen is noted for his development of a technique known as total serialism. Alex Ross’ recent article in the New Yorker describes Stockhausen’s work as a “cosmic splatter of pointillistically variegated sounds” and “space-age bleeps.” The Eldorado films begin with a documentary, “Creation,” observing the process of Preljocaj’s choreography that reflects his influences of Cunningham and Viola Farber. His movement takes risks with speed and transition. The dancers are challenged by the precision of his gestural and spatial demands. The fast clips of rehearsals, interviews with Stockhausen, costume fittings, dancers’ discussions, and technical rehearsals were well connected to the whole process. The abrupt changes in lighting and video processes alternately jarred or relaxed this viewer. The conversations between Preljocaj and Stockhausen illuminate the composer’s process and his desire to use technology as a means to improve his skills and extend his musical range. Both artists are in tandem when discussing the complexity of the music layers and the ability of musicians and dancers to achieve accurate tempo. Many references are made to artistic endeavor as a means to spiritual development. He mentions that listening to the layers within his sound compositions was like experiencing the many systems working in the body at once. For costumes and décor, Preljocaj selected Nicole Tran de Vang, whose designs are influenced by embroidery. Her costumes create a second skin of nude-colored body suits with intricate white embroidered patterns. The effect was cool and natural with the tones of skin and hair highlighted. The second film, Eldorado, is the completed performance. It begins with cool blue lighting, which reveals twelve dancers standing against white panels, their bodies outlined by tiny holes of light. They emerge in small groups and perform in silence. Stockhausen’s music of electronic layers accented with sounds of bells fill the space as dancers emerge from their outlined panel positions. Preljocaj’s dancers are the most compelling when the camera follows them closely, swerving around them as they move. The dancing and music are cohesive. This is especially true in a segment where the focus is blurry, the dancers and music create squirmy motions, and it looks as if we are viewing cellular activity through a microscope. I was reminded of Stockhausen’s reference of microcosm and macrocosm in relation to art and science. Assayas was disappointed that the French Institute had not provided an adequate number of five speakers for the music of Stockhausen to be fully realized. As the documentary shows, there are five layers of music intertwined within Stockhausen’s music. Perhaps if the five speakers had accompanied the film, as Assayas mentioned before the screening, the music would have surrounded us as Stockhausen had intended. The image of Eldorado that stays with me at the close of the film was of the dancers’ return to their outlined panels and the glow of light emanating from around their bodies…as if they were aliens put to sleep on another planet. Both of Assayas’ Eldorado films, especially the documentary, are an historic homage to Stockhausen and a provocative record of Preljocaj’s choreography process
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