Dance film: the art, the market

Keith Gallasch

Erin Brannigan is strongly motivated in organising a festival of dance film for One Extra. It’s not only a form that fascinates her, it’s also the subject of her PhD-in-progress, and, as reported in the pages of RealTime, she’s visited overseas dance film festivals. Brannigan says, “I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of support for the form in Europe and America. I felt that Australia was behind the 8 ball in terms of the rest of the world.” With limited funds, Brannigan curated the Dance Lumière project for Dancehouse in 1998. This time she’s got a bit more room to move and has found a home for the festival at Sydney’s Reading Cinemas—a significant move designed to reach a wider audience for a burgeoning form. She also feels for filmmakers: “there’s not much impetus to make dance films if they’re not going to be screened. I want to provide a platform for the work to be screened and for film-makers and choreographers to get together and talk. The interdisciplinary nature of the form requires an interface between the two.”

While the transfer of plays to the screen is rare and most opera on screen is a higher form of documentation, dance and film have joined to create a hybrid where experimentation is fundamental. What is it about dance that invites filming? “I was speaking to Damien Cooper, and he talked about the kind of limitless scope for creating spaces for dancers through lighting. And I think that dance somehow offers opportunities for exploring different ways of staging that theatre doesn’t—purely because dance can be a lot more abstract and it opens up different possibilities for context. And then there’s the pure compatibility of the movement of the body and the moving camera. Dance is a challenge for film in terms of capturing the kinetic impact of human movement. But I also think it’s an archival thing. From the beginning, I think the possibilitiy of capturing dance on film was always such a boon for dancers and choreographers because there was no other appropriate way of recording or documenting their work.”

Reeldance, however, is not archivally motivated: “It’s about looking at the more successful combinations of the 2 forms rather than something that’s dictated by the dance performance.” Brannigan has decided to hold a competition. After an initally slow response, she now has 30 entries. Competition, she thinks, is a sure way to attract filmmakers, especially since “there aren’t really good networks of dance film-makers.”

Because of the cost involved, the increasingly significant nexus of screen and live dance won’t be represented by performance in Reeldance. However Margie Medlin’s film for Sandra Parker’s In the heart of the eye (see RealTime 35) will be shown. The film is “really interesting in terms of what they’re trying to do with the camera and the performer’s eye. Even just seeing the film there’s a very strong link with a particular performance. But for me, screen in performance is almost a completely other genre. What I’m interested in is a festival that is about looking at films and the way that dance operates within film. ”

To make Reeldance work, Brannigan needs to attract a hybrid audience of film fans, dance addicts, filmmakers, choreographers and dancers. “I’ve gone for quite high profile choreographers because I think that’s going to be an important drawcard. There’ll be work by Philippe Decouffle, Wim Vandekeybus and Alain Platel of Les Ballets C de la B. I think that will attract a dance audience but also dance practitioners. Most choreographers who work in film seem to have strong connections with other art forms and a lot of them have very theatrical sensibilities—such as Vandekeybus and Platel. I think there’s something about the narrative history of film which appeals to those kinds of choreographers. I think we’ll also get people who are specifically interested in those companies (especially after the 1998 and 2000 success of the Les Ballets C de la B showings at the Adelaide festival). I’m hoping we’ll get the short film crowd who are interested in the potential that dance-film offers for a different type of language. And people studying film, and of course, film-makers who are interested in the possibilities of dance on film. I’m hoping for a cross-disciplinary audience.”

Reeldance is a real live-in event, with not only numerous screenings but also forums. Brannigan’s international guests are the joint winners of the IMZ Dance Screen Festival last year in Cologne—Pascal Magnin from Switzerland and Miriam King from the UK. “Their films screen on a double bill on the Saturday night. On the same program is Mura Dehn’s The Spirit Moves, a documentation of jazz dancing in America in the 40s and 50s. Prior to that we’ll have a forum with Pascal and Miriam about the international dance film circuit. On the Sunday, we’ve got a retrospective Australian program screening some films from AFTVRS and also the Screensound collection. Then we’ll have the short-listed Australian filmmakers talking about the practicalities of making their work before we run the films on the big screen on the Sunday evening.”

Reel Dance: International Dance on Screen Festival, Reading Cinemas, Haymarket, Sydney, May 19-21

RealTime issue #36 April-May 2000 pg. 42

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2000