Screen Dance at Danceworks
Luc Vanier, of the UWM dance faculty, is out at the leading edge of thought and practice of the merging film, video, computing and dance.
For the last few years, he has curated an informal screening of such art at Danceworks, with examples from Milwaukee and elsewhere. When weather permits, he’s shown them on the parking lot behind Danceworks, a lovely spot on the Milwaukee River across from the Commerce Street condo row.
Weather permitted Saturday night. Maybe 60 people, almost all of them dance insiders, showed up. They were rewarded with a break in the rainy weather and 10 nifty pieces totaling 90 minutes. Some, such as Becoming, a weird tale about a mantis-like female (sci-fi makeup and all), had big government grants behind them in countries where such grants exist. They had long lists of credits and Hollywood fit and finish. The coolest was Beguine, a witty, surreal Dutch confection about a guy who despairs over losing his girl. He does things like jump off an office building and then shave on the way down. It wasn’t very dancey, but it was the coolest music video I’ve ever seen.
Beguine is a film with a little bit of dance. Becoming is a narrative film with some dance-like aspects. Vanier’s own Runnin’ Out of Fools captures aspects of Elizabeth Johnson’s dancing in ways you couldn’t if you were sitting the theater. He puts the camera up close and personal as she dances her solo, so you can feel the fleshy effort. It’s gritty and gripping.
It is less so later in the video, when other dancers enter and are subject to certain computer manipulations. Vanier was one of several video artists perhaps too enamored of kaleidoscope effects. (Within 18 months, insiders will be saying that kaleidoscope is so 2009.)
Alex Sheehan, another local, also drew terrific results from a simple idea: Shoot two dancers doing the same number in a studio, on a beach and on top of a picnic table. Cross cut at unexpected intervals while maintaining continuity of the dance to the nanosecond. Context changes the meaning of a dance; a woman en pointe on a picnic table is different that a woman en pointe on the stage. Very clever and very amusing.
In no case did any of the filmmakers simply shoot a dance on stage. These screen works are independent works of art, not documentations of stage pieces. In one piece, Oliver Fergusson-Tayler’s Trash Dance, you see a dance but never a dancer. You just see trash… dancing. Really.
Check it out.