reeldance: global shorts: music:dance:image

jodie mcneilly

I have fond memories of early Sunday morning recoveries in front of a friend’s TV eating Vegemite-smeared Saos while watching music videos on Rage, a ritual formative in my knowledge of pop, indie, rock and dance music. Bands old and new had images to their music slickly produced for them: surreal, narrative driven, overblown and minimal. More often than not, the band was placed artfully in incongruous locations. Music video comfortably defied all rules of visual coherency. Until seeing ReelDance's Global Shorts: Music: Dance: Image program, I hadn't realised that these suburban, post-party moments of my teens were early encounters with diverse examples of screen dance. Sixteen clips were screened, originating from Norway, UK and Canada with most made in Germany and Australia.

Not so unusually, the bands appear on screen to sing and play while a wacky world is unleashed. Dancing or exaggerated everyday movement is foregrounded in the subject matter, the structure of the clip, built into the editing or humorously executed by band members. In I’d rather dance with you (Kings of Convenience, dir Geir Homes, Norway, 4mins) the lead—dressed in a nerdy three stripe, tight red tracksuit—commandeers a group of young ballerinas, seeking vengeance on his ballet mistress by teaching them his simple, daggy choreography. The tune is poppy and delicately sung. His twisting moves and cross-over kicks are light and joyous, delivered with ease. This devious corruption of form, softened by natural lighting and slow paced action, informs the editing language. He is a red figure juxtaposed against the ivory white room and beige suit of the piano player, singing and smiling dulcetly in several close-ups. Parallel framing allows the dance to unfold alongside the narrative, culminating in a concert hall performance where applauding parents watch a ballet rendered in the celebrated, subversive manner of Little Miss Sunshine. A favoured shot is a pan from left to right of tiny white stockinged legs, collared by jagged tulle, knees knocking together.

The cleverly constructed I have seen you dancing better than this (Luigi Archetti and Bo Wiget, Germany, 4mins) is an extreme example of music not corresponding to visual image. Two middle aged-men in black with low slung electric guitars strum heavy metal style—head forward, face shrouded by hair, knees bent, pelvis hovering over toes. The sequence is continuous, with the edit simply shifting focus between mid and close range. Filmed in black and white, the frame never changes content or configuration. The layered electronic sound is punctuated by a single organ note, deliberately not meeting the action. Perceptually the sense of the music played by the men is not lost but heightened by the images of a dance moving to a tune we can't hear. At no time do the two strands intersect, they only share duration. The movement is seen and the music is 'listened to' because of this juncture alone.

The opening scene of Australian band Mess Hall’s clip Pulse (dir Justin Kerzel, Australia, 4mins) is at dusk; two small residential structures fill the background; the band can be seen through a window. Two children skip with the hypnotic beat, constant and consistent. The skipping is adroitly captured in a single stable shot, changing when a band member leaves the room. The camera pans to the left revealing more skippers, two girls playing a clapping game and a coastline with a tanker on the horizon; its light further beating out the pulse. The evenly controlled pace is suddenly broken as the guitarist runs past changing the shot from stable frame to frenetic Dogme style, an INXS like chorus kicking in. The camera chases the man. The motion intensifies, creating ambiguous shapes. The man draws away from the camera toward the distant city lights. The camera pans 180 degrees to indicate the reason for his fleeing: a raging fire. Pulse is superbly choreographed in a unified sequence, the music wedded entirely to the action.

As a consequence of defining dance film narrowly, I was initially suspicious of music video’s inclusion in the ReelDance Festival. But in this context, music video appears to be the most inviting of all screen forms for dancing to ably burst out beyond the pedestrian gesture without seeming contrived. Perhaps some dance film could benefit from a tighter relationship between music, dance and image.

Global Shorts #02: The Art of Moving, May 16, ReelDance International Dance on Screen Festival, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, May 11-18

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. web

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2008