By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
The man loves to dance! He feels happy, empowered. And what is the dancing that so thrills him? A Swiss traditional form called the Bödälä. Who knew? Bödälä, by Gitta Gsell, an entry in the 2011 Dance on Camera Festival, shows enthusiasts of this dance doing it and talking about their zest for it. The Bödälä is a couple dance. The man, barely lifting his feet off the floor, stamps rapidly and rhythmically. Hard.(Committed experts add extra wood to the heels of their shoes.) He lifts one arm high, and the woman holding his hand turns smoothly under it like a top, while he inches around her.
Thats all there is to it. But to the people who inhabit green alpine meadows, stylistic distinctions abound, and competitions are held. Experts discourse on the dances possible ritual roots (the Earth traveling around the sun perhaps), and purists deplore the few spunky women who do the stamping and ask their partners to spin. Gsells charming film also shows a more flamboyant variant, in which a man performs wild stunts to impress his mostly serene partner. And, enamored of foot rhythms, a Swiss dancer trained in flamenco abandons that tradition to dance on a special floor of wooden keys that functions like a xylophone, giving her stamping a a range of possible tones.
The festivals prize-winning documentary, The Last Tightrope Dancer in Armenia(2009), introduces American audiences to another unfamiliar traditionthis one on the verge of vanishing. This beautiful film is also a sad one, and its makers, Inna Sahakyan and Arman Yeritsyan, often shoot upward to show a lone shadow of a man against a darkly cloudy sky. Thirty years ago, we learn, there were 20 tightrope shows traveling from village to village, setting up their ropessometimes as high as 20 metersand dancing elegantly along them. Vintage films show admiring crowds and startling feats (jumping into splits, riding a bicycle along the rope). Once too, the dance had a spiritual connection; it brought the dancer, and perhaps the watchers, closer to heaven.
As the film begins, Zhora and Knynaz, two men in their seventies, former virtuosos on the wirefriends and salty rivalswork with their protégées, Hovsep and Mamikon, complaining that these boys, adopted as small children from orphanages, dont have the polish or the zest that the men themselves had in their prime. We see the young soloists practicing on stubbly hillside fields, amid horses and sheep, traveling in falling-apart vans, and performing for scanty crowds. The older boy, Mamikon, gives up the art for a better-paying job. Zhora dies, and, as the film ends, his student, an accomplished 15-year-old who has been rope-dancing since he was four years old, wonders if he can keep it up. Yet all he knows is to climb up to the rope, set his feet along it, andwhether or not anyone is watchingdance.
Two very different documentaries were shown in Lincoln Centers Walter Reade Theatre, one of four theaters involved in the festival. One film celebrates a pioneer of American modern dance, another shows a contemporary European form being carried in a new direction. The first, A New Dance for America: The Choreography, Teachings and Legacy of Doris Humphrey, was written and directed by Ina Hahn, who heads the Windhover Performing Arts Center in Rockport, Massachusetts. As a young dancer, Hahn performed in works by Humphrey and took her dance composition class. Humphrey was a kind of lodestar for her, and for many othersguiding them to see dance as the expression of, and yearning for, a harmonious universe.
The text that Hahn wrote and speaks is understandably reverent and sometimes a bit too effusive, but her film brings to the foreground the brilliance of this underappreciated choreographer (Humphrey didnt have the long life and self-promoting skills of her rival and onetime colleague, Martha Graham). In the film, Stephanie Clemens, director of the Illinois company MOMENTA, critic Marcia B. Siegel (author of the absorbing Humphrey biography, Days on Earth), and Carla Maxwell, the artistic director of the company founded by Humphreys protégée, José Limón, make it clear that Humphreys ideas about musicality, dance architecture, and resonant form, as well as her physical principle of fall and recovery, are still vital and have continued to influence choreographers, dancers, and dance students.
Theres footage of the lovely young Humphrey dancing alone and with Charles Weidman, her dancing partner and co-founder, in the late 1920s, of the company that bore their names. Other film clips give a sense of her great workswhether performed by students, by contemporary professional dancers, or by members of the original José Limón Company, for which she served as artistic director. Fervent, dedicated, a humanist, Humphrey created stirring, often fierce dances that more people should know about.
Life-affirming in a very different way is the 2010 German film Dancing Dreams, awarded the Special Jury Prize by Dance on Camera 2011. Written and directed by Anne Linsel, with Rainer Hoffman as its director of photography, the film sensitively documents the rehearsals and performance of an unusual project. In 2008, the late Pina Bausch selected 40 teenagers from around Wuppertal (where her company is based) to learn and perform one of her major works, the 1978 Kontakthof(a few years earlier, she had mounted it on a cast of people over 65).