Pippa Samaya, film: Dancing in the Now

Keith Gallasch

Dancing in the Now – Full Length from Ubuntu Samaya on Vimeo.

Pippa Samaya is a 27-year old recent RMIT graduate in commercial photography who has made an engrossing, self-funded and ambitious 50-minute documentary, Dancing in the Now, freely available online.

The film features interviews with dancers—Stephanie Lake, Antony Hamilton, Paea Leach, James Vu Ahn Pham, Lauren Langlois, Tara Jade Samara and Sarah Jayne Howard—interpolated with footage of rehearsals and performances. The dancers speak lucidly and frankly about emotion, intelligence, risk, structure and, above all, dancing in the moment, the now. For artists who declare they prefer the language of movement and gesture over speech they are remarkably eloquent. Other dancers will recognise themselves in their words and young dancers will gain some sense of what lies ahead of them or is already felt, if not yet expressed.

Save for some passages shot in slow, fast or staccato motion (which are only occasionally revealing), the cinematography is fluent and engaging, capturing the energy and delicacy of movement of highly skilled dancers, alone or in groups in rehearsal, dropping in and out of the action, stretching or happily communing.

The film is structured as a series of episodes, each broadly addressing a theme, opening with the dancers’ embrace of contemporary dance’s openness, its capacity to “draw from raw emotions” without, says James Van Phu, “the illusion of smoothness” associated with ballet. Elsewhere Antony Hamilton says he’s come to reject the utopian goal of perfection,”of trying to find contentment in the next moment,” rather than now. “There is no destination. Then you can allow disorder into the work or your life. Let in mistakes and they can become the focus.”

In a section about emotion, Stephanie Lake speaks as a choreographer who “starts with something abstract and simple and ends up somewhere emotionally mysterious,” finding “emotional logic through structure.” Sarah Jayne Howard creates from feeling, but also, she says, from text “with its useful rhythms” and from the environment, as when “replicating a sweeping landscape.”

Samara speaks of the limits to emotional engagement in dancing; it can be too strong and draining physically—“sometimes it’s like an injury…but can also be healing—anger and love can give us the energy to move.”

As for being in the ‘now,’ it’s not simple. Samara speaks of “letting go and being in your body, but also of ”a certain skill in riding the experiential wave of awareness on a sensory level and letting go all the judgment as to what that is.” The performance is both ‘predetermined’ and in the moment.

For Antony Hamilton, the ‘now’ is in dance’s capacity to “shift thinking out of the everyday.” Several artists, like Paea Leach, speak of how much they are continuously ‘in’ their bodies in ways they think non-dancers are not. As if to underline this we watch a lone figure in a railway station performing tai chi while travellers speed by. One dancer evokes the physical intimacy of dance, of working so closely with other bodies in the moment but also“of coming home smelling of someone else’s sweat.”

There are reflections too on the ‘now’ of performance—Sarah Jayne Howard amusingly recalls times when she wondered if the audience would want to see her yet again, and Stephanie Lake speaks about periods of doubt but finds herself still a committed dancer.

What appeals to Tara Jade Samara is that dance now has “a contemporary intelligence and understanding of the body, and which changes” as our bodies evolve, moment to moment.

Tara Jade Samaya and James Vu Anh Pham, Dancing in the Now

Tara Jade Samaya and James Vu Anh Pham, Dancing in the Now

Tara Jade Samaya and James Vu Anh Pham, Dancing in the Now


You travelled widely at a young age. Was that influential in your becoming become a photographer?

My parents have always been adventurers of the world and as a child I was whisked along with them. Exposure to incredible cultures such as Nepal’s and trekking in the high Himalaya’s quickly opened my mind to the vastness of human experience. Also like my parents, I have always been artistic and, specifically, visually inspired. It was a natural progression for me to photography and film.

What specifically led you to photography?

I had an early introduction to photography via my father, who although he never went professional, shot incredible images all through his travels and has helped nurture my own interest since childhood. Studying commercial photography at RMIT was really just the final step moving me into the high-end professional realm of image making.

What is your focus as a photographer?

Although photography can be seen as superficial, I have always been interested in reaching further than skin deep. I strive for imagery that uses physical form to depict and inspire emotional states of being that cannot be seen but will always be felt. To achieve this and survive in the commercial photography world can be hard but I find increasingly that I attract the kind of companies and individuals who also share my values.

Why did you turn to dance? Are you a dancer?

Dance seems to me to be the perfect vessel to communicate the internal human experience through external expression. I’ve always danced, non-professionally, and loved it on an experiential level, but it wasn’t until I started to shoot dance at a high level that I really discovered just how powerful a still moment in this form of movement could be, and how many stories the body can tell. My partner is an incredible dancer and in recent years I have found myself increasingly surrounded by dancers and dance in many shapes and forms. It seems like a path that has been paved out for me that I am honoured to walk on.

What prompted the shift to film?

Working with dancers has led me in a natural progression to film; movement can often tell a whole other story from a still image. Once I began, there was no looking back. Although of course I still love still photography, I am now equal parts a videographer.

I approached several people I knew or had been referred to in the industry and many welcomed me warmly into their worlds. Throughout the interviews I was touched by some of the depths that we naturally moved into. Dancers are an incredible breed.

The dancers were generous to speak with you but also allow you to film them.

I did not ask for or require any previous footage of their work but many let me in to shoot my own throughout their rehearsal processes or even dress runs and performances. I would offer some still images in return, so we all left happy.

Where will your vision take you next?

As well as continuing to work in dance films and music films, I hope to take this project to a larger scale and eventually, with a little support, realise my dream of a film which documents and explores dance internationally—to explore the different uses for dance, social and traditional, for ritual, healing, spiritual, career, passion and romance, and how this reflects the humans who engage in it. Perhaps we will even reveal a cycle, which connects the individual back to the whole and exposes the interconnectivity of all life. Who knows?

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg.

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

11 November 2015