Feature: Achieving Fusion

Friday 9 April 2010

*The Dance Film Academy, a joint collaboration between the BBC, Arts Council England
and the Scottish Arts council brought together five artistic teams to immerse
themselves in dance film making for two weeks in September last year.* Each group created a pilot dance film to pitch to a panel of experts and just
one was chosen to be made for broadcast. See the documentary about the process
on BBC4 on Saturday 19 March 05 at 7pm to be followed by the winning film at 8pm (Repeated on 26 March 05 1.40 – 3.10am)

Meanwile, here Georgina Harper reports on the time she spent at the Dance Film Academy….

Dance Film Academy

Deep in the Welsh countryside, surrounded by the manicured gardens of Gregynog House and with no mobile phone reception, 5 artistic teams get the chance to get engrossed in dance film. The teams are in each other’s company twenty four hours a day with the aim of creating a pilot dance film to pitch to a panel of expert judges. The winning team will get £100,000 to make their film and have it broadcast on BBC Four. A documentary team are on site capturing it all and the director clearly states her intentions on day one: to help, rather than hinder, the creative process and document each team’s journey to presentation. This is a significant opportunity for dance filmmakers to prove to audiences and the media that dance film is accessible, exciting and programmable on television. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for these artists to get their work shown to a far wider audience than is ever usually possible.

Dance Film Academy

The Artistic Director of the project, accomplished dance filmmaker Thierry de May, has a clear objective. He hopes the project will lead to a greater understanding of dance film in the public domain and the development of public perceptions about the art form. At the beginnings of cinema, dance was seen as the ideal art form for new film technology to record. Cameras were able to capture moving pictures for the first time and what better subject to film and experiment with than movement and dance. Filmmaker Alex Reuben, a member of one of the teams, believes that the reason dance on film is often not understood as an art form in its own right is the domination of the spoken word in western culture. After silent movies were pushed aside in favour of ‘talkies’, the spoken word took over from movement as the primary language on screen. The popularity of the radio added to the shift, and the language of the body became less accessible to the general public.

The popularity of film musical has meant that dancing has never been far from our screens, but the format of big budget Hollywood show-stoppers has obscured the exciting area of dance and film coming together as art, rather than as entertainment.

Film and television certainly offers contemporary dance artists a wider audience for their work. People who would never dream of going to see a dance performance in a theatre may well switch on to a television documentary and encounter the work. However, the presentation of dance film on television throws up a number of problems and challenges, no little of which are facing the filmmakers and choreographers in Wales. The films need to be accessible to a mainstream audience who may not be as ‘dance literate’ as the specialist audiences choreographers usually draw in to the theatre. Also, in the case of Dance Film Academy, the creative challenge is to develop an idea that will hold an audience for 30 minutes.

The artists have a script doctor on hand to help them structure their ideas and achieve the sustainability that the time frame demands. Most groups were very clear about what they can bring to the process, the choreographers providing the emotional content, the raw material of the story and the film makers utilise their knowledge of filmic language and story telling techniques to create a narrative structure, not necessarily linear, to support the dance. An exception are collaborators Lucy Baldwyn and Magali Charrier, who describe themselves as co-choreographers and co-directors, favouring a more unified approach. The teams plan to utilise narrative structure and the audiences understanding of filmic language to make dance more accessible.

Dance Film Academy In Thierry’s introduction to the teams, he describes dance filmmaking as ‘a challenge to combine music, visual arts, narrative and dance in order to arrive at a creation of a new art form. A fusion of elements’. Amongst the teams there has been a lot of talk about the idea of fusion. Fusion of the two disciplines, fusion of creative processes and fusion of artistic visions. On a practical level, the question is will this lead to an exciting artistic creation or a battle for power? Filmmakers are used to being the boss on set, but with supposedly equal artistic input from choreographers, who are also used to being the sole creative driver, will either party be able to put the artistic ego aside? On an artistic level the idea of such collaboration presses all the buttons that excite and stimulate audiences, a product which can utilise the visceral powers of dance and movement and the visual craftsmanship and story telling traditions of filmmaking. The result has the potential to push the boundaries of television audience’s experience of dance.

Dance Film Academy allows viewers a privileged glimpse in to the creative process, ideas and challenges of a genre that is at the cutting edge of contemporary dance practice and perhaps goes some way to a de-mystification of this exciting art form. The onus is now on the artists to make the fusion work.

Article posted March 2005

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