Mar/April 2011 DOC Journal

Dance Interactive Photo Credits (left to right): Ted Shawn, photo Shapiro Studios; Drew Jacoby, photo Kristi Pitsch; Shantala Shivalingappa, photo C.P. Satyajit

Dance for Camera This has one good element going for it: The understood idea here is dance that is made to be recorded. This term begins to suggest the notion of camera-specific choreography. But the expectation of “Dance for Camera” is that the product ultimately will be dance, in the same way that with “a chair for sitting,” what you’ll have is a chair. This term also suggests that the concern can be how to dance when it is for a camera. Dance for the Camera A variant of the above, with the addition of sounding like a command barked by an Old West gunslinger. Dance Media This is another wide-open term and could mean anything dance-related found on any kind of media. A How to Tango video, a Gene Kelly documentary, and a Music for Ballet Class CD all could be Dance Media. Screendance In the English language, adjectives generally precede nouns. The second word in the pair is the essence of the thing. A red rock is most importantly a rock. In Screendance, “dance” appears to be a noun and “screen” appears to be a modifier. Tap Dance and Modern Dance are two types of dance. “Tap” and “Modern” tells us which type. Hearing “Screendance,” one would expect its final form to be dance. It suggests a dance that happens on the screen. Fred Astaire again. Or perhaps, the study of dance for those who wish to appear on screen. This sounds less about the artistry of cinema and more about the dancing. Cinedance/Videodance Here too, it’s important that the final word in a compound term reflect what the finished product is. The final product is a film, so the final word should be a filmic term. Cinedance and Videodance leave you with “dance.” Dance-video This begins to get there. The filmic term is the second word and it’s clear the result is something on screen. The fact that there’s an existing term “music video” helps one understand that “Dance-video” is a creative construction, a third new entity born of its two components. But its resemblance to “music video” is also a hindrance as there’s an association with a pop, commercial product. And the word “video” has consumer, perhaps less artistic, connotations. Videos are what are on YouTube, or America’s Funniest Home Videos. Dance-film This is the term I prefer. It has all the right things of “Dance-video” going for it, without the association with music videos. And the word “film” suggests a finer, more artistic medium. Universities have departments of Film Studies because “Film” is an art that deserves respect and deep inquiry. “Dance-film” is utilitarian—but direct and appropriately descriptive. In “Dance-film” there are two words that hit you with equal force. They feel like equal partners. But it’s clear that a dance-film is primarily a film, and one that will convey an experience of dance. (I do prefer hyphenating “Dance-film” as it unifies the elements into one concept.) Few of us actually shoot on film, but the term has largely stopped referring to celluloid film stock. Many Hollywood films are shot and exhibited on video, but they’ll never be called “videos.” If a video endeavors to be a work of art, it receives the honorific “film.” As do all the other terms, “Dance-film” fails to fully convey that it involves choreography made specifically for the film, and which can exist only on film. That may be too much to hope for from a humble name, and will only come about after a standardized term is accepted and can seep into public awareness.  Another benefit of “Dance-film” is that it allows easy use of “dancefilmmaker” and “dance-filmmaking,” more graceful terms than “dancevideomaking” or any tortured form of “dance for the camera-making.” I look forward to the adoption of a single term associated with a single concept that the public can become familiar with. I’m tired of checking “Other” on grant applications. I would like to have my very own checkbox. To strengthen our political position and achieve greater public understanding, we’re going to have to reach agreement on what we call what we do. Until then, I apologize to dedicated practitioners of Fance and Chorideo and anyone else who would prefer not to have to reprint their business cards. Mitchell Rose is a dance-filmmaker (and former choreographer) whose films have won 55 awards. Mitchell currently teaches dance-film at CalArts but starting in September will be teaching at Ohio State University. How Did I Get Myself Into This? The gestation of a new festival by Greta Schoenberg It was one week before showtime when Dance Films Association invited me to write about the motivation for starting a new dance film festival in San Francisco. At that time I was definitely questioning the reasoning behind this massive undertaking myself. The rewards are certainly not financial and I couldn’t say the idea stemmed from a lack of career fulfillment. As is typical of a thirtysomething dancer transitioning from the stage into the unknown, I’m already trying on many hats. I perform an intricate daily allegro through my roles as dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, producer, Pilates instructor, ballet teacher, and school administrator. I’m also happily married and want to retain some sort of sanity, especially as my husband and I are now six months into a very special new production, scheduled to make her premiere in July!

photo: Weiferd Watts

What drives me in everything I do is the potential for building community as a platform for collaboration. From a young age I organized my cousins and neighborhood friends into performances of dance, theater and song for our parents and pets. I wrote plays and choreographed dance pieces, casting them with an appreciation for the skills each artist could contribute. As a dancer, although I loved the thrill of being an occasional soloist, I always gained a deep sense of satisfaction from ensemble work and the process behind it. Later in my career, while transitioning from classical ballet into freelance contemporary work and teaching, I gained exposure to dance film by working as an assistant to my longtime friend, Swedish choreographer/filmmaker Pontus Lidberg. Although I had already started to dabble with my home camera and made a few films as a novice, I learned about the professional craft of filmmaking by working continuity on his sets and supplementing my education with film production classes in San Francisco. As Pontus became more and more successful as a filmmaker I accompanied him to other cities, attending festivals, interviews, discussion panels and award ceremonies, absorbing what I could about an urban center with a dance scene as strong as San Francisco’s also needed a central organization for dance film. It became obvious that an urban center with a dance scene as strong as San Francisco’s also needed a central organization for dance film. So I tapped into my early producing instincts and simply did what came naturally. Early in 2008 I launched a surprisingly successful trial event called Motion Pictures at a friend’s art gallery. It was an exhibition of my short experimental dance films paired with dance photography by my husband Gregg Schoenberg. I was thrilled that, in what I expected to be an intimate evening for our friends and family, complete strangers somehow heard about the opening and came buzzing with questions, analysis and excitement. They seemed fascinated with what I was doing with dance and film and it was clear they had never seen the genres combined in this way before. The feedback fired up my crusade to get more exposure for this under-appreciated art form. I wanted to educate an otherwise sophisticated public about the rich history of dance on camera, while providing a better local platform for innovation and discussion among current artists. The establishment of a valuable partnership with dance videographer/editor Ben Estabrook helped me gain confidence, both as a filmmaker and as a presenter. His technical knowledge filled some intimidating gaps for me, and I could move forward knowing that our films and presentations would be clean and professional. I started a dance for camera website and spent a full year gathering entries from local and international contacts before launching the second Motion Pictures event, a similar evening at the same gallery. The response to the films was so immediate that I was asked to present the program in three other venues within three months. The last of these being the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, whose director Skye Christiansen was looking for a program for Bay Area National Dance Week. A former dancer, Skye and her organization supported me through the process of building these film programs into an international festival. It was her suggestion to combine my ideas for screenings, guest lectures and filmmaking workshops into one exciting annual weekend, and to simply call it the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Although it had crossed my mind to someday create a festival, singlehandedly curating and producing a multi-day, multi-venue event didn’t seem realistic. However, with the continued support of Ben, with marketing help from my husband, and the addition of new friends such as graphic designer Randall Heath joining our team, it began to look possible. The 2010 inaugural festival was a huge success and we’ve been riding the wave ever since. Ben and I were especially excited by our filmmaking workshops that gave us an opportunity to teach a little of what we’ve learned together. We wanted to encourage others to try making their own films, demonstrating the possibilities that open when disciplines intersect. For our second year we expanded to two venues and three nights, including more films, guests and workshops. Randall developed a beautiful new website, and created uniform branding for our marketing materials. Ben and I premiered an ambitious new film called THE NIGHTINGALE, our first attempt at narrative filmmaking. The film took two years of steady work parallel to the development of the festival. We were stretched a little thin, but it was important to us to stay artistically active in the field rather than become solely producers.

We opened the 2011 San Francisco Dance Film Festival in relative calm. Like a proud mother I watched eager new faces fill the seats, many of who took the time to thank me afterward for what we were bringing to the community. With my collaborators established in distinct but equally crucial departments, I was able to let go of some of the roles I played in the beginning and enjoy the fruits of our collective labor. As I approach actual parenthood through this continuing process, I can see the similarities. In just a few short years I’m amazed to have created something that has taken on a life and momentum of its own. We’ll see what happens, but just as with having a child, I can already see the work will be worth it – and the motivation is obvious! Greta Schoenberg earned a BFA in Ballet from the University of Utah and went on to dance professionally in Europe and San Francisco, where she is now a choreographer, filmmaker and producer of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival . Her dance films have been screened throughout the Bay Area and abroad. Starting at the Beginning: Introducing Dance Film to College Students by Sharon Wyrrick When an expressive form integrates multiple mediums, it is difficult to find ways to articulate the diverse creations of its practitioners while preserving what holds it together as a genre. What is dance film? The very fact that this hybrid has so many names: dance film, screendance, dance with camera, videodance, choreocinema, etc., tells us it is not easily pinned down. May it continue to be so! My pleasure and challenge this year, as visiting faculty in Theater, Film, and Media Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, has been to introduce the campus community to dance film. Collaborating with DFA and the Dance on Camera Touring Program, I curated a screening series while concurrently teaching a Dance for the Camera course. St. Mary’s College is a small, undergraduate, public liberal arts institution of 2000 students with a commitment to a broad education across disciplines. My eleven Dance for the Camera students reflect the department’s offerings with several film majors, theater majors, and dance minors – currently, the College does not offer a dance major. I took on the liberal arts mission by connecting subject matter to historical roots and across disciplines. Given dance and film’s shared link of movement as an expressive tool, and early filmmakers’ interest in filming dancers, this is an obvious fit. I have used readings, viewings, writing assignments and creating dance film as my tools. For screening films of historical interest, the College’s library resources were a boon. For more contemporary work, I used streaming video, a small personal collection, and the films acquired through my collaboration with DFA creating a screening series of tremendous range in both films and filmmakers. This was key in introducing the form to those with no prior exposure. Then, while there is never enough equipment or technology, working in small groups and with support from the College’s Media Center, we’ve had adequate resources for producing modest dance film projects. My personal challenge has been putting all these elements together in an intricate, cohesive weave. Drawing from the well of resources at DFA, I chose to focus on those who have worked for some time in dance film, such as David Hinton, DV8 Physical Theatre, Victoria Marks, and Mitchell Rose. This choice wasn’t for name recognition only, but for recognition of a different kind. I wanted to identify the choreographic thinking in the storytelling. I am grateful to the inspiration of David Hinton’s podcasts (available at South East Dance) and how they connect the history of film to the joint venture of choreographers and filmmakers working to find a common working language. Many excerpts from current works are available on sources such as YouTube and Vimeo. I chose to select only full works for viewing in the class, both a personal commitment to considering artworks in their entirety and to counter the students’ cultural space where experiencing fully-formed artistic works may be infrequent. Combining a screening series with the course has been fruitful. There is the practical consideration of a guaranteed audience, and it has also given the series a leg up within the greater educational mission at the College. The series took the form of three, once-a-month, lunchtime screenings – each featuring a film of about 30 minutes, and then an evening-length program of seven short films. To see the complete list of films, visit DFA’s Touring Program. With a few weeks left in the semester and several screenings scheduled, the word is still out on the overall impact of this adventure. The students will each complete a fully, self-produced dance film. More people are stopping me to chat about what they’ve seen and what’s upcoming. In class, after having worked our way through the history to current times, I did a little backtracking and showed a few excerpts from WEST SIDE STORY. One of the students exclaimed, “That’s not dance film! They’ve just transferred the dancing from the stage to the street.” This was quite a change from the beginning of the semester, when students insisted that any time dancers were on the screen, it was dance film. Could I chalk up a small victory?

COST OF LIVING, Dir. Lloyd Newson

At our last screening, a viewing of DV8’s THE COST OF LIVING, an audience member quipped that she wasn’t sure this was dance film – there just wasn’t enough dancing. I confess to wishing for an easier way to help new audiences answer the question “What is dance film?” But, if having this wish come true means relinquishing one bit of its grand diversity, I’ll say, no thank you! Let’s keep moving on this.     2011 Touring Program Schedule St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City, MD University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI French Cultural Center, Ramallah, Palestine REflect 2011, San Francisco, CA Florida State Univ., Tallahassee, FL Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME S.E. Center for Education in the Arts, Chattanooga, TN Modern Art Museum/Contemporary Dance, Fort Worth, TX Jacob Burns Center, Pleasantville, NY Philadelphia Dance Projects, PA San Diego Tijuana Dance Film Festival, CA For dates, details and information about hosting a Dance on Camera screening in your community visit DFA’s  Touring Partners page STREB: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero A new book by Elizabeth Streb Buy your copy now through the DFA Store – and help us further the art of dance film!
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