Dance on Camera Festival Workshop & Screening at Beacon High School
by Dalienne Majors
On January 26, New York City’s Beacon High School hosted a dance film workshop and screening of two films by Caswell Coggins: DESTINO and CONFINEMENT. Coggins, assisted by Beacon’s dance and video teachers and Assistant Principal, Harry Streep, led forty high school students from Beacon and Berkeley Carroll in a dance for the camera workshop.
Dance students created choreography while video students captured the process on film. Coggins spoke about how he started his filmmaking career as a “runner” on documentary and commercial production shoots. His job was mostly “making tea.” He explained the best way students can learn about filmmaking is to put themselves in situations and learn by being involved.
Coggins presented two of his recent music videos plus CONFINEMENT, an impressive three-minute film shot in the empty corridors of a London hospital. Collaborating with Ethiopian dancers, Addisu Demissie and Jaid Jemal Sendi, and working with a budget of only $4,000, Coggins captured the choreography with a single HD camera. English composer, Tom Jarvis, composed the music after the film was edited. The result is an exquisite mix of dramatic movement aligned with throbbing musical accompaniment.
The film is dramatically set in an empty hallway with white walls and a window at the end. A male dancer enters, silhouetted against the window’s light, crashing into a wall as music explodes. The dancers climb, roll, meet and collide into each other, the walls, staircases and railings. Music desists at moments to create a compelling effect. A dancer shakes with intense desperation. His pulsing expands into slow motion accompanied by a screaming guitar. The film’s high quality and fine editing are impressive, especially considering the slim budget that required careful planning and generous in-kind contributions from the artistic collaborators.
DESTINO, Coggins’ first full-length documentary, features the same two Ethiopian dancers from CONFINEMENT – Demissie and Sendi- in projects sponsored by Dance United in London and Adugna Community Dance Theatre in Ethiopia. The film is in two locations, following the dancers in London as they prepare to perform three works by five British choreographers at the Sadlers Wells, with a repeat performance in Addis Ababa. The film opens and closes gracefully, with sunrise and sunset over Addis Ababa.
In London, the British choreographers Russell Maliphant, Adam Benjamin, Hofesh Schecter, Susannah Broughton and Tara- Jane Herbert narrate their experiences with Sendi and Demissie. Stunning camera work captures the intensity of thedancers’ bodies struggling with the daring lifts of their duet Holding Space; the complexity of movement in the sextet, The Empire’s Fall; and the excitement of working with 140 nonprofessional dancers aged 9 to 90 in Full Circle.
In the large community work, movements with non-dancers were effectively captured in rehearsal footage featuring the glowing and inspired faces of the young and elderly performers. Full Circle featured the music of Leonard Bernstein’s ON THE WATERFRONT, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The duet and sextet created in London for the DESTINO project also toured to Sendi and Demissie’s community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the addition of a new large group dance, Weket: The Seasons. The cast combined able-bodied dancers with the physically disabled. Interviews with members of the Ethiopian dance community emphasized the need to improve their country’s awareness of this underserved population. Choreography was expertly created using the limitations of the disabled dancers.
A student attending the premiere summarized the film as “…a dance movement of people from all over joined as one, based on a true story of Ethiopian orphan boys.” However, the Ethiopian portion of DESTINO may have had more impact earlier in the film, instead of being diluted by too much time spent covering the project’s London portion.
The students responded to the film’s strong camera work and its elegant treatment of the varied choreographic styles. Several also appreciated the way the large group works combined everyday movements and props with dance. They were particularly affected by the portrayal of Sendi and Demissie as “two boys with a troubled past who turn their lives around.”
Dalienne Majors is a graduate of the Juilliard School and the University of Iowa/Iowa City. She currently dances and choreographs with Parents Who Dance, a group she founded. She is Chair of the K-12 Dance Program at Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn.
Information on Caswell Coggins and clips of his work can be found here.