Feature: dancefilmday

Friday 9 April 2010

'Insomnia' [Isabel Rocamora & Jo Cammack] The postponement of The Place’s annual Dance on Screen Festival this year left a blank space in the Dance Film calendar like an awkward pause in conversation writes Georgina Harper…

After the buzz of the IMZ Dance Screen Festival held Brighton in the summer, the debates and discussions around this exciting and rapidly growing medium were in danger of losing momentum. However, at the last minute an event sprang up which promised to harness creative energies, provide a networking opportunity for those in the business and showcase some of the newest and most innovative dance films of the last year.

The Dance Film Day was held at the English Heritage Lecture Theatre in central London and included a programme of short films, documentaries and premieres, programmed by dance film veteran Steve Jackman and assisted by Gitta Wigro, the manager of Videoworks at The Place. As the event seemed to spring up from nowhere, it was a pleasant surprise to find the selection of films so stimulating and the debate so forthright.

The day kicked off with a discussion chaired by IMZ Festival producer Emma Gladstone alongside panellists Sarah Wood, programmer for Black Film on Tour and choreographer and film maker Vena Ramphal. The topic for discussion was whether commissioners and programmers have responsibility to ensure diversity in screen based dance. Diversity was defined as including gender, geography, culture and style and the panel tackled the issues with upfront honesty.

When Sarah Wood was asked to curate a programme of black dance films, Playing in the Light, the question came up ‘what is black film?’ Sarah was clear from the beginning that it was the theme of black identity and culture that would be the focus, rather than only selecting work by black artists. The films, a selection including work described as ‘artists film and video’ as well as the more traditional dance films, were shown in cinemas rather than what she described as ‘the rarefied confines of the gallery’ and the project aimed to develop new audiences for moving image work.

For Vena Ramphal, the idea of grouping together work by ‘minority’ artists is problematic. She commented that she, like most other artists, felt aligned to multiple identities and felt uncomfortable choosing one in particular. She sometimes felt like a South Asian choreographer, but mostly just a choreographer or an artist. There was a general feeling that programmes focusing on themes relating to particular minority group, linked together by race, geography or gender or any other commonality were useful and interesting, but it was important to recognise that artists belong to many groups and their work often transcends the individual artists ethnic, social or geographical background. The conversation moved to style and one comment from the floor highlighted the fact that western European contemporary dance dominated UK dance film screenings. Sarah, a self confessed dance film novice, championed work portraying non-professional dance styles, noting how much she related to Tracey Emin’s film of herself dancing (Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995) and that this was refreshing. Getting non-dance people to talk about why they love dance on film draws out a fresh approach to what makes a good dance film, and obviously getting Sarah to curate the Playing in the Light programme had drawn in many exciting and unusual film choices. _*Playing in the Light*_will open on January 19th at the ICA and then tour the UK.

'Body Electric' [Davide Pepe & Miriam King Italy 2005/4]

And now to the films. The first programme consisted of two documentaries which featured themes of mortality (*Feet on Sand* _by Paul Cohen and Jellie Dekker) and contemporary dancers invading your home (*The Bedroom Tour* _by Angela Praed).

The highlight of the Emerging Filmakers screening was *Bodies of Text*, a film by Chris Lewis-Smith which although a little drawn-out in places, features some delectable sequences in the hushed setting of a Victorian Library and explored the relationship between the body and the act of reading. International offerings were high quality but it was the UK films which really proved why UK artists are seen as leaders in the field of dance for camera.

'Nascent' [Gina Czarnecki & Garry Stewart UK/Australia 2005 ] Short, simple and clever in its manipulation of technology and computers to humourous effect, all one minute of _*Text Field* _by Chirstinn Whyte and Jake Messenger (UK) is a pleasure. By translating a single phrase of improvised movement into computer code it makes dance out of commas and computer keys.

It is impossible to rave enough about the glorious _*Nascent* _by Gina Czarnecki and Garry Stewart (UK/Australia), a film which encapsulates the beauty and poetry of the moving body on screen. Itis an abstract visual feast with only the slightest hint that the vaporous shapes forming and reforming across the screen are human bodies.

'Tremor' [Wayne Macgregor & Ravi Deepres]

The day concluded with the premiere of dance4film, a TV programme including six original films commissioned by Channel 4 and Arts Council England. Highlighting the precarious process of making work for television, one of the commissioned films was cut from the final programme as it contained images of people wrapped in plastic. It was deemed unsuitable for pre-watershed viewing as it could potentially encourage kids to put bags on their heads. Luckily the programme didn’t elicit any inappropriate responses from the audience at Dance Film Day! Other newly commissioned films included Excellent Beauty by the Honey Brothers and choreographer Tom Sapsford, exploring ideas about the body beautiful, using film techniques of fragmentation, and *Tremor, by director *Ravi Deepres and chorographer Wayne McGregor, which set an edgy and disturbing movement vocabulary in an industrial wind tunnel with unnerving effects.

The overall programme was presented by an energetic and funny Jonzi D, and although the style of delivery did feel slightly patronising to the dance savvy crowd, for a mainstream audience who are unlikely to have encountered much in the way of choreography for the camera it was very accessible and fun – an innovative whistle-stop tour of the genre and a great opportunity to showcase some very exciting artists.

Links

News report on the cancellation of Dance Film Academy – announced at the dancefilmday. Read on

Article posted January 2009

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