Welcome to our first web-based, episodic delivery of the September/October 2010 Dance on Camera Journal.
Below you’ll find the introduction to this issue, and the first of four articles written especially for it. If you’d like to read the entire issue now, please become a member – or return to the site in a week or so, to read the other essays in the coming weeks.
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.
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.
To read more of the September/October Dance on Camera Journal, become a member – or return here for new posts throughout the month.