DFA Dance on Camera Journal

September/October 2010

Members’ Voices

In this issue we are pleased to focus on the voices of DFA members. The dance film community is a growing one, and we offer herein an opportunity to hear some of the diverse and committed voices of its participants. DFA asked four active professionals who are DFA members to write about their work, focusing specifically on dance on camera. The authors include: Chisa Hidaka, described by the NY Times as ‘dancing as if possessed.’  Chisa began her career in modern dance while attending Barnard College, where she received her BA in Dance in 1986. As a choreographer, Chisa has presented work in a number of NYC venues, most recently through the collective Metro Movement Project in collaboration with colleagues Mark Lamb, Deborah Gladstein, Sarah Pope and Marianne Giosa. Her work is largely improvisational, using structures to organize spontaneous choreography in performance. Chisa’s film TOGETHER: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins, was a recipient of a DFA Post-Production award this year. Tanja Meding moved to New York from Germany in 2003, and has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. For Maysles she produced, among others The Beales of Grey Gardens, Albert Maysles Talks About Marlon Brando and Sally Gross – The Pleasure of Stillness by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile. Funded in part by NYSCA and DFA, the documentary premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland, aired on WNET/Thirteen and is now available on DVD through the Reframe Collection. Starting in 2007, Tanja has been producing and distributing short films by Rosanne Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder. Conversation with Boxing Gloves was commissioned by PERFORMA and the San Fransciso Museum of Modern Art and Jackie and Judy premiered at the 2010 Dance on Camera Festival. The Line and The Collection are two more shorts currently in post production. In addition, Tanja is the associate producer of Pascale Obolo’s upcoming feature-length documentary Rose, Calypso Diva about music legend Calypso Rose, and co-producer of Gabriella Bier’s Love During Wartime, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband and their struggle to find a place in this world to live together. Tanja Meding is a member of DFA, New York Women in Film & TV and the Producers Guild of America East. Hamel Bloom & Michelle Ellsworth are the creators and curators with Ana Baer of Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema. This is an annual festival in Boulder Colorado which began in 2003 with the support of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) and the University of Colorado at Boulder. With an expansive definition of dance and an appreciation for highly experimental and interdisciplinary forms, this unique festival exposes diverse audiences to a variety of film, video, and performance possibilities. All three curators are dance and video artists. Elena TaJo is a psychologist video-maker whose mission is to trigger shifts in perspective using art, conversation, and play. As an aging dancer with a significant but not immediately discernible disability, she is an outsider in both the dance world and the disability world (as Bill Shannon, the Crutchmaster said: “you can come but you have to sit in the back of the bus”.  Her website, OGReHome.com offers Outsider Grief Relief by relentlessly playing with the idea that embracing rejected aspects of ourselves prevents the projection of wickedness on others. “Though disabled by Rheumatoid Arthritis since infancy, I have been in love with dance all my life. While doing other stuff, I continued to stumble around in the sidelines of dance classes, trying to find my way, wishing I could belong. At the age of 50, I finally gave myself permission to dedicate myself to dance and face the consequences. The video series, “Deformity Dances,” will express that journey. “Elbow Room,” the first installment, refers concretely to the extra room required when wrists don’t bend, and metaphorically to the right to claim space.” DFA is proud to present these members and their writing. The loose definition of  “dance films” may sometimes create confusion, but it allows for a wide and constantly changing range of expression. The results have been challenging the conventions of the performing arts for decades now, and we look forward to DFA members continuing to expand our horizons. We hope this issue will inspire and motivate your own work. We look forward to seeing your films and videos. Keep in contact via Facebook and Twitter – we look forward to seeing you all at the rapidly approaching 2011 Dance on Camera Festival. Kathryn Luckstone, Editor

Dolphins Don’t Storyboard by Chisa Hidaka

Do they? After all, they’re wild dolphins. As we approach the release of  TOGETHER: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins, the pilot film of my Dolphin Dance Project, I reflected on the filmmaking process, which began with – yes – a storyboard. From the first time I encountered the dolphins, six years ago, I recognized that wild dolphins are ‘natural choreographers’. Incredibly graceful as they swim and acrobatic when they leap, wild dolphins also move in patterns of group movement that are beautiful and immensely pleasing to a choreographer’s eye. Pairs and trios move in perfect unison, making wide circles or tight spirals. Then, they separate from each other or the rest of the pod, swooping around to gather together again. I also noticed, in stark contrast, my fellow humans looked comically awkward. Scattered about, everyone was pointing their cameras at the dolphins, no one paying attention to each other, often even bumping into one another. As I watched I wanted very much to see something different. I wanted to see us humans being as coordinated as the dolphins so that we could all dance together. This is still the vision of the Dolphin Dance Project. I know that it’s possible. I have seen and participated in that kind of leaderless coordination in many dance studios practicing improvisation. We observe and recognize patterns, choose to move in ways that are meaningful in the context of the observed patterns. The patterns emerge, they shape the improvisation the way grammar and syntax shape a verbal conversation, providing clarity. This process may sound very cerebral, but it really isn’t because ultimately, it is about the relationships between the dancers – the danced conversation.  And like any technique, you don’t feel like you’re using it when you are in the midst of a performance. Eye to eye with a wild dolphin, I’m not thinking about emergent patterns. I connect as openly as I can with my amazing wild partner. I dive as fully as possible in to the amazing inter-species moment and rely on my improvisation technique to be there, supporting the relationship. It’s impossible to do otherwise. The gaze of a dolphin is hypnotically engaging! So what about the storyboard?  What I can tell you is that several of the patterns I drew on the storyboard did, in fact, emerge and get filmed. One example is ‘the swirl’  (pictured at left) where dolphins gather around me as we spiral up to the surface together. Underwater cinematographer, Bryce Groark, caught the action from a different angle than I imagined but the interaction was structured pretty much as it was sketched. Yet, I have to admit that despite success in capturing clips that were quite similar to the sketches, the narrative implied in TOGETHER ended up being very different from what was on my storyboard. What I had imagined was a kind of fairy story recalling the Amazonian myth of the boto dolphins, who would seduce a young woman from a ball, luring her away from the humans. What I actually edited from the clips was something much simpler – a wild Spinner Dolphin and a human dancer forging the beginnings of a tender relationship by improvising some movement together. Perhaps this is not surprising, as this story is much closer to what ‘really happened’. Looking to the next film, I am sure I will attempt another storyboard. Hopefully, with a bit more in-water practice, we’ll get not just the patterns but the narrative structure ‘right’ as well. TOGETHER: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins (3 min 33 sec) was made possible in part by finishing funds from Dance Films Association and is available for download at Dolphin-Dance.org. TOGETHER will premiere November 6 at the Big Apple Film Festival at Tribeca Cinema in NYC.

What is a Producer and do I really need one? by Tanja Meding

To sum it up in a sentence: the producer’s job is to manage, organize and oversee the entire production process from start to finish and beyond, sticking to schedule and budget – while keeping everyone happy! I always advocate for adding a producer to a project. Making films is a collaborative effort and extremely labor and time intensive. All too often, time and money are limited, so the more the filmmaker can focus on directing the film, the better. It is the producer’s role to ensure that everything budget and time allow, is there to fulfill the filmmaker’s vision. Additionally, the producer can also serve as a mediator for the filmmaker.  Handling rejections of grants, festivals passing on the film, distributors turning the film down or renegotiating excessive licensing fees; the producer can deal with these matters on a business rather than a personal level.  Understanding the filmmaker’s vision with an insight into the entire production process, the producer brings another set of eyes, the producer can offer the filmmaker valuable feedback. Also, the producer is there to troubleshoot any crises that inevitably occur during production. And the producer will be a valuable spokesperson for the film, promoting and advocating for it. Ideally, the relationship between the filmmaker and producer is a collaborative one. Both parties should understand and respect each other’s roles and responsibilities, working together for the good of the project. Depending on the project, whether it is a documentary, a short dance piece or a fiction work, my involvement as a producer varies. I prefer to enter the project during the development phase when the filmmaker defines what the focus of he film will be, who the audience is and how the story should be told. However, sometimes I come in during pre-production after this initial development process has already been completed. At that point, I join the project when it is being financed. I will identify potential funding sources, draft a budget and collaborate with the filmmaker on writing a proposal that will be shaped according to the different grant requirements. Especially with dance related films, I am also part of the actual production. Sometimes this may be due to budget constraints, but also because I enjoy working hands-on with these smaller projects.  Good organization,  project management, as well as problem solving and people skills, are all needed during this phase of production. The work ranges widely from researching and locking locations, renting equipment, coordinating the crew and dealing with any legal issues to ordering lunch. In short, anything that is needed to get the job done. Once production has wrapped, I co-ordinate the post-production process. In addition to arranging the workflow, I make sure the editor has what is needed, and coordinate the communication between editors, directors and composers. I very much enjoy the editing process, in particular for a documentary because this is where everything comes together. Reviewing and discussing the different edits is one of my favorite parts of the entire production process. The more I have been involved in the previous steps of production, the better I can offer comments and feedback. Handling a film during all stages of production from its very first idea to the premiere and well beyond, is what a producer does – and to me that’s what’s exciting and gratifying – being part of this entire creative and managerial process with all its challenges and rewards!

Curating with Courage by Michelle Ellsworth & Hamel Bloom

Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema is an out-of-the-mainstream film festival that presents dance films and live performance annually in Boulder Colorado, USA and also tours with select submissions. Three busy volunteers do most of the work: Michelle Ellsworth, a performance artist and Professor of Dance; Ana Baer, a multimedia artist and Professor of Dance; and Hamel Bloom, a technologist, wheelchair dancer, and film editor. The Festival began in the Sans Souci Mobile Home Park, Michelle’s trailer in particular, and quickly migrated to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) courtesy of Ellsworth’s friend and curator, Brandi Mathis. BMoCA was our home for five of our seven years. The start was small and humble. In year one, Michelle and Brandi invited friends and students to show work.  Once invited, if one showed up with a mini DV at BMoCA, the work was exhibited and the tape returned. Michelle and Brandi began curation in the second year. In year three, Baer and Bloom joined the crew as Brandi headed out for NYC. Since then, Baer, Bloom, and Ellsworth have been the core curation team. Even though we’re all practitioners and two of us are professors, all of us still consider ourselves to be lifelong students of the new and evolving screendance art form. We are fans of screendance and of the artists who make the work. Our intention is to provide a forum for those artists and a venue where our audiences can grow to appreciate the form. As the screendance medium gains popularity and our festival gains visibility, the number and quality of our submissions increase. Although we may need to soon, we deliberately have no set agenda. This allows a mix of creativity to flow into our funnel. As the number of submitters increases, so does the number of snacks needed for our curatorial process. And as we nibble, we ingest intellectually in form and in content. We hold a very expansive definition of dance. This opens the festival to a wide variety of fare. We have a list of criteria for selecting works to screen. On our website we say: We’re interested in work that integrates dance and cinematography. When choosing works, we consider production values, thoughtful forms and themes, investigative / innovative / experimental approaches, audience appeal, and how the piece will fit with or complement others we are considering. None of these criteria is a must; none are more important than the others; excellence in any one or two areas may be sufficient for acceptance. Shorts are preferred. We are not interested in work that objectifies the female body or in simple recordings of dance on a proscenium stage – cinematic elements must be an integral part of the entry. But in the end, what we admire most is artistic innovation and courage. If a piece is moving or compelling, if it tells some truth about the human or political condition, that may become more important than high production values or the moving image. We find it compelling when an artist takes risks – whether we like the aesthetic or not. There is something inspiring about the fearlessness of an artist to go deep and reveal herself. It may be that some of the works we choose are artifacts of an artistic process, evidence of a commitment, rather than fully polished finished works. So be it. Sometimes we put things in just for their chutzpah – just because they dare to be. Our curation process is a kind of intensive, yet intuitive and worry-free, snack-based undertaking, held together with an array of web-based custom- made administrative tools created by Hamel. With these tools, we can be confident that our thoughts are being captured as we curate. It supports the conversation that we can each assign a numeric score and record a comment in a shared and structured interactive document. But those scores are not even factors in our decision, just crumbs dropped to help us find our way. Once works are selected, Ana or Michelle will program the event. We find a tension between ordering works in such a way as to aid the audience’s understanding of the new medium and the aleatoric juxtapositional pleasures of the coincidental. We walk the line.

What is Dis? by Elena TaJo

What is Dis? Dis-ability. A lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability. Incapacity. A physical or mental handicap. So how does a cripple dance? And do you want to see her try? Don’t stare. No, wait. Please do. Have you heard? Disability is the new Black. Disabled dancing bodies are everywhere, and people are talking about it. Facebook-acclaimed New Mobility features “Physically Integrated Dance,” and the brand new International Journal of Screendance investigates the Spectacle of Difference. Dance Film and Dis Dance are coming of age together. What is Dis? One of Dante’s circles of hell, a walled city surrounded by a field of limbs of non-believers. Do you dare visit? Don’t dis me. “Dis THIS!” proclaims Lawrence Carter Long, as he introduces his so-named film series featuring disability: “No handkerchief necessary, no heroism required. This is disability through a whole new lens.” If there were ever a time when we needed a whole new lens, it would be now. Scapegoats and enemies multiply while we remain stuck in narrow vision, unknowingly replicating the very scenarios we rail against. What better way to open our eyes than to encounter a surprising body in our field of vision? What better way to get unstuck than to find movement in impossible places? As a disabled but dedicated dancer, I know how much creativity is required to get from point A to point B. I make translations and adaptations on the fly, staying aware of risk and pain. You can divide Dis Dance into two approaches. In the first, disabled bodies are included but not featured, the way you might cast a black man as Hamlet without making a big to do about it. The audience might then find itself saying, “Look what she can do in spite of that leg.” Or, simply “What astonishing mastery!” Or “What beauty!” when we see the lovely Lisa Bufano. Hamel Bloom, a wheelchair dancer and Sans Souci Film Festival organizer, loves The Rising Sun as an exemplar of this inclusive approach: “For a change we have a disabled person represented as inspirational, not because he’s doing something other than what most disabled people do, but because he loves life and he’s a member of a Crew where everyone else does too.” Viewers are treated to a soft healing, a vision of a world where all are welcome. In the other approach, disability is the main event, the Thing we look at, and there is danger along with potential for more dramatic healing. Here we play with words like Cripple and Gimp and Invalid to co-opt and transform insults, the way the word “Nigger” might be used to challenge an audience. Here we show you the missing stuff. David Toole, in Cost of Living, hops up onto the bar (a drinking bar not a ballet bar), so that his obvious lack of legs challenges us along with his provocative words. In Heidi Latsky’s Gimp dancers repeatedly circle shortened limbs, fall dangerously close to the audience, and tell jokes about “3 cripples in a bar.” Bill Shannon takes his crutches and skateboard to the street to upend expectations about what a guy like that can do. These dancers invite us to look right at It, look right at this seeming distortion, this twist of nature. Look at what we especially can do. Don’t write us off. Study us: we might have something to teach you. Cuddle us: we might be worthy of love.  Beware, though, there is anger under the covers. “Cripple” is an aggressive form of self-description, poet Lucia Perillo tells us, a swagger with a “tinge of pathos. If I tried to swagger, I would fall down.” It’s pretty hard to be cool when you’re falling. There is something unique about this intersection between defiance and obvious vulnerability; the audience is both challenged and softened. Invited in, squirming a little as the differences appear, then Dis-appear. Ahh, the enemy is us. The war is over.

DFA Dance on Camera Workshop at the 92nd Street Y

DFA puts dance in front of the lens with a workshop led by Richard Move. Create and capture visual stories with dance and video. Examine how the filmmaker’s intention guides all decisions regarding the choreography of the camera, balance of foreground and background and composition. Single session $75. Mention that you are a DFA member to receive a 10% discount. Registration is required. To register, visit http://www.92y.org. Sun, Dec 19, 2010, 2:45-5:00 pm Richard Move is Artistic Director of MoveOpolis! which has been presented by Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, Sitelines/River to River Festival, and other international venues. Move’s The Show (Achilles Heels), originally commissioned, created and performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project. His films include BARDO, which received the 2009 Jury Prize nomination at the Dance on Camera Festival, BloodWork-The Ana Mendieta Story, recipient of the 2009 National Board of Review Award at the Director’s Guild of America, and the feature GHOSTLIGHT, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He also choreographed the cult film STRANGERS WITH CANDY, starring Amy Sedaris, Mathew Broderick and Stephen Colbert. Move is a TEDGlobal 2010 Oxford Fellow.

Filament Festival at EMPAC 2010 Dance Movies Commission

The DANCE MOViES Commission is a program launched by EMPAC to support the creation of new works in which dance meets the technologies of the moving image. As the first major commissioning program for dance film established in the US in 2007, it has already had a significant national and international impact, with the creation of thirteen new works to date, many of which are winning awards and touring extensively. The five projects currently in postproduction premiered during Filament, a festival of new work across genres at EMPAC, October 1-3, 2010. The dance movies included this year: ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY, Mexico, 10 minutes Director: Nuria Fragoso HOOP, Canada, 4 minutes Director: Marites Carino (Image featured on cover) MO-SO, USA, 12 minutes, looping video installation, Director: Kasumi Q, USA, 12 minutes Director/Choreographer: Rajendra Serber THE CLOSER ONE GETS, THE LESS ONE SEES, Brazil, 12 minutes, Videomaker: Valeria Valenzuela The works supported by the DANCE MOViES Commission are experimental dance works for the screen which vary widely in content and form, yet are united by the fact that they are crafted by a choreographer or movement- based artist. DANCE MOViES Commissions may be narrative-based works, abstract works, or may use tools such as computer processing, motion capture, simulation, animation, image processing, and postproduction technologies, and some may even extend the confines of the single screen to multiple screens or projections. The EMPAC DANCE MOViES Commissions are awarded through a competitive open proposal process conducted annually. More information on the DANCE MOViES Commission or EMPAC may be found on the EMPAC website: http://empac.rpi.edu

Minutes from DFA Annual Members Meeting

The annual members meeting took place on October 14, 2010 at the Showbiz Software Store and Cafe in New York. Representing DFA were board members: Virginia Brooks,  Amy Meharg, Penny Ward, Marta Renzi, Louise Spain and Harry Streep. Also present was Executive Director, Beni Matias and Interim Journal Editor, Kathryn Luckstone. After some meeting and greeting DFA board president Marta Renzi initiated the commencement of the meeting proper. The meeting events included the voting of the organization’s Bylaws, discussion of current DFA initiatives and the presentation of clips from the DFA Post-Production award recipients. The Bylaws presentation was given by board member Louise Spain. The original Bylaws were written when Susan Braun was running the organization. Louise summarized the Bylaws changes as follows: 1. Change of Board Member elections from annual Membership vote to a vote by the Board. 2. To permit proxy vote by members. 3. Change the term for Officers from 1 year to 2 years; and the term for Board members to 3, for 2 terms, voted by the Board. 4. Reassign responsibility to maintaining membership records from treasurer to staff person. 5. Expressly permit the Executive Committee to use email to communicate between meetings. Members will still be informed via mail of important items such as the annual meeting, per legal requirements. The Bylaws were ammended with no opposition. The Post-Production Awards reel included clips from: The Life of Martha Hill (Greg Vander Veer), Together: Dances with Dolphins (Chisa Hidaka); Where God Sleeps (Kathy Craven) Feelings are Facts: the life of Yvonne Rainer (Jack Walsh). The evening was a success and a wonderful example of why there should be more gatherings for the dance on camera community. The meeting included great discussion, debate and conversation about DFA and the making of dance films. The black and white cookies were a great addition to an event full of passion and ideas. Everyone present agreed we will not wait a full year for another opportunity to get together. If not before, we look forward to reuniting at the Dance on Camera Festival in January for certain.
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