This year’s “Dance on Camera Festival” is heavy on explorations of character and psychic states. It embraces a starchy Canadian biopic about National Ballet School founder Betty Oliphant and a practically softcore psychological portrait of Danish dancer Nikolaj Hübbe (now a member of New York City Ballet). Three young filmmakers record the candidly related struggles of Philadelphia dance pioneer Joan Myers Brown, and Australian director Paul Cox dramatizes the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky.
The series’s definition of dance is very broad; if there’s a body and some movement, a film qualifies, even if what’s moving is completely apart from the body. The programming emphasizes animation and new-media techniques, and features a live performance by Kathy Rose, who interposes her costumed body between the screen and her projected films. Washes of color drip down her face or across her clothing, enormous locks of hair float as if in liquid, and huge hands cradle her form in the window of light. If one of her solos calls for a chorus line, she provides an animated one.
“Pioneers in New Media,” the most historically diverse of the festival’s six bills, screens Doris Chase’s early video experiments from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as cartoons by the anarchic British animator Bob Godfrey, a 1980 quickie by Pooh Kaye, a short computer-generated work by former Cunningham dancer Michael Cole, a lively capoeira animation by Laura Margulies called Hepa!, and Rose’s retro, semi-surrealist experiments. Those who can sit still for the work of overrated choreographer Boris Eifman might check out Face-Off Russia, a 1987 film of a political-protest ballet, in which the framing device is the nightmare of a sleeping soldier. Film space demands a different performing style from stage space, and Eifman’s dancers haven’t mastered it.
Rounding out the event are screenings of Nils Tavernier’s new feature-length doc about the Paris Opera Ballet; scenes from Sally Sommer’s paean to club culture, Check Your Body at the Door (which, like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, is perpetually short of finishing funds); and a program of eight short narratives from Holland, Venezuela, Sweden, Spain, and the U.S. (local filmmakers, many of whom will appear, include Mitchell Rose, Gabri Christa and Evann Siebens, Jeff Scher, and Amanda Rabin and Michael DeMirjian). The 30-year-old festival has also spawned a clutch of affiliated free screenings as far afield as Soho’s Puffin Room, and inspired a cine-cabaret at Galapagos in Williamsburg.