down there for thinking

chirstinn whyte at london’s dance on screen festival

You Made Me Love You

You Made Me Love You


The festival’s core programme of International Screenings was co-curated by Videoworks manager Gitta Wigro and Sarah Wood, with the latter having moved to screendance from a background in programming moving image works by visual artists.

As the festival last appeared in 2004, the two-year hiatus provided the opportunity for the screendance community in Britain to see how the form has progressed by reflecting on the range of activity on offer at this year’s event.

The six day programme of events opened with a masterclass screening, showcasing work created in a single week under the guidance of director Katrina McPherson, winner of the IMZ Dance Award, Monaco. McPherson emphasised the creative potential inherent within an improvisationally slanted approach and the desirability of placing movement content at the heart of dance work created for the screen. These thematic concerns were particularly well served in the ambitious layering of movement material and dialogue in Jemima Hoadley’s Red/White (2006). McPherson’s own work was also present throughout the week in the form of the ultra high concept Move-Me booth, co-originated with Simon Fildes, and co-produced by Ricochet Dance Productions, where anyone brave enough to venture inside could create their own recorded interpretations of choreography by, among others, Rafael Bonachela; Deborah Hay and Stephen Petronio.

Away from the main screening space, engagement with the conceptual was strongly in evidence as a strand of festival programming with installations in the form of choreographer/director Heather Eddington’s precision editing projected against Nyanda Yekway’s stark white sculptural environment in Curious, and Mark Dean’s Goin’ Back (The Birds/The Byrds x 32 +1, UK, 1997). In this hypnotically minimalist reworking of a close-up from Hitchcock’s The Birds, Tippi Hedren’s horror-stricken face moves continuously forwards then backwards from a barely perceptible rocking breath rhythm to an anguished semaphore of self-protective arm waving. Another striking convergence of the choreographic and the conceptual was evident in 365 Days—Reijo Kela’s video diary of 1999. The eponymous Finnish director/choreographer recorded his physical journey through the frame for (almost) each day of the year, playfully exploring and developing a movement vocabulary of hopping, rolling and running through a variety of locations and settings, involving a range of good-natured, if somewhat bemused, bystanders.

The festival’s Living Room area provided a library facility to view all submitted works, catch up with familiar faces and watch the One Minute Wanders program, with each piece rising to the challenge of time constraint to deliver a series of small marvels. Claudia Kappenberg’s Long Wave (UK, 2006) made use of archival footage projected on to the single female performer’s naked back. The simplicity and economy of the idea allowed access to an intimate world of texturally layered and body-based memory and association, with the undulatory movement of the figure echoing the journey of a giant sphere as it hugged the curve of a hip and rolled along the length of the spine. Mavin Khoo (UK, 2006), directed by Hazuan Hashim and Phil Maxwell and choreographed by Khoo himself, made strong use of a range of compositional elements. With the lone performer in silhouette against a riverscape location, the framing emphasised the verticals of the moving figure and the skyline set against the constant horizontal of the river and interweaving the peal of city bells with the ethereality of a counter tenor’s voice. In Caps (France, 2006), directed by David Olivari and choreographed by Karl Paquemar, a trick of perspective is played on the viewer. A seemingly flat, graffiti-covered surface is revealed as a space housing concealed entrances and exits and a frame-within-a-frame as two men enter, playing out an intense encounter using the movement language of supported fall and recovery with sudden shifts of positioning and dynamics visible against the outer and inner edges of the screen space.

Within the festival’s International Screenings, the trend towards the conceptual was particularly apparent in Miranda Pennell’s You Made Me Love You (UK 2005) in which a group of teenage performers are filmed as a sea of faces, filling the frame, locked on to and following the single take, studio set, stop-start journey of the camera like a shoal of particularly attentive fish. The piece’s minimalist movement vocabulary of walking, stopping, turning and swaying is suggested mainly by the sound of moving feet and sudden silences as the striving to maintain an unbroken relationship of performer gaze to camera/viewer becomes the central focus of the work.

Catherine Maximoff’s interpretation of Russell Maliphant’s choreography in Voyage (France, 2006) demonstrated that the particular skills necessary to translate stage-based dance work to screen require to be categorised as a specific choreographic practice in their own right. The work achieves a balance between the use of wide shots to reveal the whole body, thus recreating the live viewing perspective, interspersed with more intimate closeups, providing a sense of quietude and interiority. Sequences are filmed from alternating perspectives, contrasting front and back views, and music with ambient sound. A contact duet is filmed from above, intercut with extreme closeups of near abstracted torsos and arms, punctuated by the sound of the dancers’ breath.

In Match (Ireland, 2006), directed by Dearbhla Walsh and choreographed by Fearghus O’Conchuir, the camera functions almost as an extra performer, transforming an intensely physical contact duet into a trio by the extent of its choreographic engagement. Location is also used to strong effect, as Ireland’s (deserted) national stadium provides an epic spatial arena and a charged cultural context for a male-to-male encounter exploring combat and competitiveness, with moments of tenderness and physical intimacy ultimately transcended by the will to win. The camera work mixes aerial shots with extreme close-ups, capturing an interlocked grappling of arms from beneath and following the trajectory of a movement arc with as much physical intensity as the performers themselves.

The festival concluded with Next Up, curated by Wigro and IMZ winner Rachel Davies, presenting a new generation of screendance practitioners and where conceptually driven work again left the strongest impression. Maya Deren wrote that reverse motion can be used to convey the impression of “an undoing of time”, and in Jan Steinum’s Highway of Love (Norway, 2006), a patterned tracery of footprints visible on a flat, snow-covered rooftop were gradually and magically erased by the backwards journey of a single male performer wearing red patent thigh boots and little else, carefully cradling a dance partner in the form of a blow-up doll. In Philippa Thomas’ Electric Desert (UK 2006) the superimposition of motion-blurred Las Vegas neon over black and white footage of a young male transvestite created a memorable and otherworldly visual landscape. Manipulating a Loïe Fuller-like outfit of billowing white sheets, the central figure’s face, revealed in extreme close-up, appeared to follow the progress of the coloured lights, and the absence of sound served to place the work outside of a conventional linear timeframe, drawing the viewer into a heightened experience of visuality.

Bill Viola wrote of the shift in popular perception accompanying the realisation that “the twentieth-century artist is not necessarily someone who draws well, but someone who thinks well.” Dance On Screen 2006 provided ample evidence that in the 21st century the screen can function as a site of expression for dance film practitioners who think well too.

Dance on Screen Film Festival, The Place Videoworks, London, Oct 30-Nov 5

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 35

© Chirstinn Whyte; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2007