post-dance, everything is choreographic

chirstinn whyte at manchester’s moves 07

The Elders, Lisa May Thomas

The Elders, Lisa May Thomas

The Elders, Lisa May Thomas


Originating as a strand of the Commonwealth Film Festival in 2005, Moves this year became a stand-alone event, under the continuing direction of Pascale Moyes. An additional range of hands-on activities, including a week-long filmmaking lab, panel discussions and workshops, began with a two-day conference on screen choreography, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University. Keynote addresses were given by Christian Ziegler, artist in residence at ZKM in Karlsruhe, and Xavier Baert of La Cinémathèque de la Danse, who spotlighted ‘acts of choreographic creation’, evident in the work of non-dance identified artists from Hans Richter to David Lynch, with a plenary session led by Johannes Birringer of Brunel University.

The orientation towards screen choreography, rather than screen dance, foregrounded a range of context-specific processes and functions, including Steve Hawley’s practice-led take on the choreographic relevance of framing choice and Simon Fildes’ exploration of repetition within the editing process. The importance of historical legacy emerged through a focus on Muybridge and Marey’s early experimentation with body-centred moving image, and from Elinor Lipman and Claudia Kappenberg’s respective studies of Maya Deren’s The Very Eye of Night (1958) and Rene Clair’s Entre’ Acte (1924). A variety of papers, relating to notions of choreographed violence and to the field of dance and technology, highlighted the diversity of thematic concerns and constituent groups rallying under the banner of movement on screen.

The conference orientation was also strongly reflected within the festival’s curatorial stance. Traditional notions of the choreographic role, involving the generation of codified steps on dance-trained, human bodies, were expanded to include a range of screen-related practices, such as framing choice, editing, and the composition of graphic elements.

Over the course of the week, work spilled out into the public arena with Bex and Mark Haig’s installation, Simon Says, combining CCTV-style live feed with pre-recorded content, and selected pieces also shown on Manchester’s BBC TV run public access screen in Exchange Square. Meanwhile, Xavier Baert’s guest-curated program began the ‘indoor’ screenings, housed at the Royal Northern College of Music. Baert’s choice of work ranged historically from the fluidly billowing ‘serpentine’ dances of Loie Fuller adherents to the visual feast of saturated colour and granular texture of Ronald Nameth’s Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1967), where a flicker effect alternately illuminated and obscured silver and red-drenched glimpses of late 60s club life.

The Visual Rhythms programme combined screendance with animation and short film, contrasting the ultra-minimalism of Pekka Sassi’s On Message (2006), where light flashed onto an otherwise darkened screen at beat-driven intervals, with the smooth glide of the steadicam in Royston Tan’s DIY (2005), as rhythmic pulses, discovered in the course of everyday activities, developed into an escalating symphony of urban syncopation. A range of work by North West-based artists was also showcased, where Andy Wood’s framing choice in Gaze (2006)—to render visible the fuchsia-hued, flamingo-like lower limbs of an otherwise unseen performer—functioned in itself as a choreographic device. Kirk Woolford’s Will.O.W1sp (2006), featured earlier in the week as a conference presentation. Here the silhouette and movement pathways of a single figure were translated into a swarm of particles, alternately coalescing and scattering in a state of constant flux, highlighting the inherent instability of physical form and stylistically echoing the work of pioneering film artist Len Lye.

The issue of narrativity was addressed by a variety of means throughout the Communication Break-Down program. Gail Sneddon’s The Fall of Adam (2006) transposed ejection from the Garden of Eden to a tower block stairway, combining an eloquently framed economy of imagery with a highly polished visual style. In David Russo’s I Am Not Van Gogh (2005), a rambling movie pitch, heard in voice-over, was simultaneously rendered visible through a combination of live action and animation, leading the viewer through a surreal urban pathway of constantly shifting elements, transforming at the speed of thought.

Through the Picket Fence provided a rich seam of work dealing with cross-cultural reference points. Marlene Millar and Philip Szporer’s Butte (2006) contrasted an exhilarating, aerial camera journey with the earth-bound and ritualised step-based movement vocabulary characteristic of Native American culture, locating a single human figure within expansive elemental surroundings, lit by firelight and the flame-red setting of evening sun. In Lucy Cash’s Sight Reading (2006) a minimal, precise and carefully composed interweaving of elements, which included a cross-generational cast and use of voice-over, created a highly considered world governed by its own internal logic. Viewers were drawn into an enclosed environment of arcane imagery as test subjects with covered eyes ‘read’ opened books by placing them against forearms, and an indoor falling of snow settled on an otherwise immobile grouping of crouched figures, connected by a floor-bound patterning of twine. Sound and silence, movement and stillness, and visibility and darkness were explored within the framing of a solar eclipse, with the work’s muted colour palette intermittently punctuated by black screen, and a movement vocabulary of steps, falls and settled balances glimpsed fleetingly, as though from the corner of an eye.

Lisa May Thomas’ The Elders (2005) used documentary form in a generation-oriented portrayal of Bristol’s long-established Black community. Throughout, a subtle interplay of aural and visual material raised issues relating to individuality and community, and the honouring of dignity in age. Stately-paced walking contrasted with close-up shots of hands and mouths, beating body-centred rhythms and engaged in song. A skilful interweaving of testimony on the experience of migration was intercut with imagery of birds in flight, echoed by a flutter of hands.

In Saturday evening’s programme, Pas De Deux, the ochre-tinted haze of fragmented repetition and filmic decomposition of Solomon Nagler’s spare, dream-like Untitled 3 (Stone Killer) (2006) brought to mind the legacy of experimental film makers such as Malcolm Le Grice and Stan Brakhage. In Boldi Csernak’s Dusk (2007), the retreat of a lone female figure from the cautious approach of a male was presented simultaneously, by means of a split screen, from a distanced, static viewing position and from a gradually shifting camera point, attached to body of the ambulant male. The use of exterior location, functionally-oriented camera work and naturalistic, though emotionally heightened, movement vocabulary, recalled aspects of low-key surveillance and wildlife filming, contributing to a disquieting engagement with the acts of witnessing and documenting. The programme was topped and tailed by Maya Deren’s seminal Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) and the lesser known Meditation on Violence (1948). Both pieces conjured a continuously moving male figure through abrupt changes of background location, virtuosically realised as choreographic sleight-of-hand by means of editing. The latter piece was shown with partially improvised live accompaniment, providing an additional, if unfamiliar, layer of aural complexity to the numinosity of Deren’s work.

Douglas Rosenberg has stated that we are now in an era which can be described as “post-dance.” This, he asserts, is particularly evident in relation to a screen context, where “dance is displacing its own identity by eagerly merging with other existing forms and its own mediated image.” In an increasingly convergent culture of moving image creation, the Moves 07 conference and screening program created space to examine how the post-dance era is giving way to an emergent era of the choreographic.

Moves 07, Manchester, June 12-17, www.movementonscreen.org.uk

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 47

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

1 August 2007