between space, people & camera

jane mckernan: interview, tracie mitchell, reeldance festival

We Have Decided Not To Die

We Have Decided Not To Die


In May, Reeldance will launch its sixth International Dance on Screen festival and tour under the banner “A Collision of Art, Dance and Film”, the first to be curated by new artistic director, Tracie Mitchell who replaced founding director Erin Brannigan in February last year.

Mitchell’s background is primarily as a dance filmmaker. Her career spans over 20 years and her films are in the collections of the Tanz Museum, Cologne, La Cinematheque de la Danse, Paris, and at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne. She is currently completing a practice based PhD at Victoria University, researching new critical frameworks to describe dance for camera. The basis of her work as a dance filmmaker, researcher, mentor and curator is the broad question “What is dance for screen?” and it is this provocation, as well as her interest in process, experimentation, play and deep passion for the form, that she brings to her role as director for this year’s festival.

Mitchell’s program is diverse. Many of the strands that Reeldance has traditionally offered, like the documentary session (this year Paris is Burning and In Bed with Madonna), international shorts sessions and Reeldance International Dance on Screen Awards, are still in place, but there seems a broader sweep of both high end and low budget films, as well as films made specifically by choreographers and more general art films with an interest in the body and movement. Aptly, the theme for the festival is space—physical, emotional, imaginative space and tensions held in space.

The opening night of the festival represents the high end with the films We have decided not to die by Daniel Askill and The Rape of the Sabine Women by Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation (which premiered in Australia at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2008; RT87). Both have enjoyed wide audiences internationally outside of the dance on screen genre, but Mitchell enthuses about seeing them within the context of the Reeldance festival. Askill is a filmmaker with a strong interest in fashion, and therefore Mitchell notes an interest in the body, movement and composition. “I think what’s so interesting about the film is the subtleties of movement and the intimacy of the camera to be able to express the coming together of those forms, to actually express something with meaning, rather than an audience looking at something going ‘oh, isn’t that beautiful’.”

Mitchell first saw Sussman’s film as an installation in North Carolina and then again in feature film format at the Melbourne Festival, and was excited about how it addresses elements of dance for the screen. She is interested in the ways Sussman holds the tension between people and space, people to people, and to the camera.

The Forgotten Circus

The Forgotten Circus

There will be a retrospective of films by UK artist, Shelly Love, who will be attending the festival as an international guest and hosting labs in Sydney and Melbourne. These will focus on the festival theme of space and will create an environment for testing ideas, embracing spontaneity and play without the pressure of an outcome. Love trained at the Laban Centre in London and is among what Mitchell calls the first generation of choreographers to come out of training into the strong dance screen culture in the UK in the 90s (such as the BBC’s Dance for Camera series, South East Dance, Dance Video at The Place) and to utilise such opportunities. Love received the first dance screen residency at The Place and has ‘crossed over’ into making video clips for bands. Mitchell hesitates to use the word whimsy in relation to Love’s films, but describes watching her work as similar to dropping into Love’s imagination. Mitchell is also interested in Love as an artist whose first language is dance, and whose filmic choices are made through this dancerly perception.

Send The Cameras Out will launch the second stage of Reeldance’s Indigenous Initiative, taking place over a three-year period and providing opportunities for Indigenous dancemakers, editors and composers to engage with making dance for screen works. The session will screen six new dance works made over the last year as part of an intriguing experimental process. Each of the six choreographers was given a camera and one month to respond to the questions “What is dance for camera?” and “What is space?” The raw footage was handed to six editors who created a six-minute edit over a month, and then in turn handed the films to six composers who created a score. The screening will be the first time the 18 artists will see the finished works, and there will be a forum for the artists to respond to the project. Mitchell sees this as an initial experiment to begin to build infrastructure for the ongoing program, and there will be much consultation with the artists on where to go from here.

Out of The Hat is another session with emphasis on experimentation and chance, and comes out of Mitchell’s recognition that there is little opportunity for Australian dance filmmakers to have public screenings of their work. Based loosely on the chance procedures of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, artists are able to register their works and at the beginning of the session an hour’s worth of films will literally be pulled out of the hat for public screening. Each artist whose work is shown will be afforded time for public response to their work.

From the Archives will launch the opening of the Moving Image Collection (MIC), Reeldance’s database project initiated by former director Erin Brannigan, archiving the accumulation of work in the organisation’s history over the past decade for public access and screening works drawn from the collection. In conjunction, there is currently a window installation at the Australia Council building in Sydney with 10 screens showcasing works from the archives. This installation will tour to Chunky Move in Melbourne and the Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane as the festival travels from state to state.

Beyond the individual sessions, Mitchell is interested in the overarching concept of a festival. She reminisces about days spent at the Valhalla Cinema in Melbourne in the 70s with a thermos of tea and packet of shortbread biscuits, watching films from morning to night, submerging herself in the filmic world. She speaks of the importance for her as an artist early in her career of attending festivals overseas to “meet, be inspired, critically respond, investigate, network and be fed” and to create the connections she felt difficult to maintain in Australia at that time. Mitchell’s vision for the Reeldance Festival is to provide a platform where artists and audiences alike can immerse themselves in the world of dance on screen.

To increase the sense of national convergence and conversation, Mitchell has created Artbus, two buses travelling overnight from Melbourne and Brisbane respectively with dance film screenings every hour and places for 48 people on each, who will be guests of the festival in Sydney with access to all screenings, forums and talks. Mitchell wants the festival to be not only about screening dance film, but about process and community too. She likens the process of her curation to creating a fabulous dinner party: you meet great people who give you stories; the surroundings are divine; the lighting’s perfect; you are served a degustation menu, with each taste like an amazing adventure; and you leave exhausted with all your senses satisfied.

Reeldance International Dance on Screen Festival; Performance Space, Carriageworks, Sydney, May 13-16. See www.reeldance.org.au for national tour dates: Perth, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane.

RealTime issue #96 April-May 2010 pg. 28

© Jane McKernan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

12 April 2010