memories spoken and embodied

jodie mcneilly on dance like your old man

Meaghan McHenry, Dance Like Your Old Man

Meaghan McHenry, Dance Like Your Old Man

IN GIDEON OBAZANEK AND EDWINA THROSBY’S DOCUMENTARY DANCE FILM, DANCE LIKE YOUR OLD MAN, WE HEAR THE VOICES OF SIX WOMEN PRERECORDED IN INTERVIEW STYLE, BUT WITHOUT THE QUESTIONS, PLAYED OVER FOOTAGE OF THEM DANCING LIKE THEIR FATHERS. THE STORIES TOLD AND THE ‘OLD MAN DANCES’ ARE CAREFULLY POSITIONED IN A 10 MINUTE STUDY THAT ASKS WHAT WE UNDERSTAND OF OUR FATHERS AND OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM. IT’S A QUESTION APPROACHED THROUGH MEMORY, BOTH SPOKEN AND EMBODIED. THE FILM PRESENTS AN INTERESTING CHASM BETWEEN THESE TWO MODES: A BODILY IMPERSONATION OF A FATHER’S DANCING AND A SPOKEN REVERIE OF THE RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. EACH INTERVIEW HAS BEEN SHAPED WITH ATTENTION TO THE DIFFERENCES WHILE FILM EDITING IS RICHLY UTILISED TO SOLDER THE DISPARITY INTO A SINGLE TELLING.

The arrangement of the interviews develops and deepens this modal incongruency from first to last through editing style and pacing. The first dancer, Meaghan McHenry, presents an example of contiguity between the light and seemingly coquettish description of her father with the energy of the dance. The editing is quick, the range of shots bouncing playfully between close-ups of face, chest and midriff. A close-up of the young woman’s finger pointing (a favourite move of her Dad’s) punctuates the rapid vacillation between close, mid and long shots. From here the shape of the film begins to bifurcate between the tone of the telling which grows somewhat darker, and constancy in the joy of the dancing.

With the fourth dancer, Bec Reid, we are taken from the sweet reminiscence of daddy’s little girl, juxtaposed with the playful absurdity of a father who struts about “like a rooster with a fire cracker up his bum”, into slow motion treatment of a daughter’s disappointment and sadness at her hero’s love affair. The change is observed firstly on the dancer’s face followed by a close-up of her upper chest, and then in the softened texture of the reduced film speed. This is in stark contrast to the comic stiffness of the father’s jig. Now the slowing of the shooting underlines the gravity of the dancer’s words.

The final dancer, Ros Warby, walks into frame. She is composed, seeming to take a moment to reflect before moving. Positioned mid-frame and against the telling of a sad, affectionate story, Warby breaks into a fitful dance: upper arms closed tight on the torso, bent at the elbows, lower arms and hands moving vigorously, asymmetrical to the contained verticality of a body that seems to resist propulsion. The whole head engages appositely with the motion of the arms, shaking violently from the neck. The dance suggests a body constrained, inside, a ‘wild fella’ ready to erupt. We learn of addiction, demise and recovery, the memory however no longer bearing disappointment.

The film’s documentary inquiry deepens in this last episode with the reverent stillness of the camera and the absence of editing. It also reinforces a sense of the differences between embodied and spoken modes of memory expressed throughout the film. The finale completes a coherent and carefully constructed picture of six women’s stories, moving from many edits to none, from innocent fathers to the fallible and the forgiveness required. By using dance, Obazanek and Throsby avoid the pitfalls of storytelling that simply invites psychological analysis, asking us to recall in both word and body who our fathers are, or were.

Dance Like Your Old Man, directors, Gideon Obarzanek, Edwina Throsby, performers Meaghan McHenry, Sara Black, Alexandra Dillon, Bec Reid, Penelope Bartlau, Ros Warby, cinematographer Cordelia Beresford, editor Simon Njoo, online editor Oliver Clifton, sound editor, producer Chunky Move in association with Chequerboard Productions. 10 mins, 2007

Dance Like Your Old Man has won the following awards: 2008 Flickerfest International Short Film Festival, Best Documentary; 2008 ReelDance Awards, Best Documentary; 2007 Melbourne International Film Festival Nova Cinemas Award for Creative Excellence in an Australian Short Film, and Best Documentary—Short Film.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 33

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2008
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