Theater archives

Dancers Make Movies


Cheap, portable, light-sensitive equipment and a new understanding that cultural memory increasingly resides in electronic media are driving choreographers—and the filmmakers who love them—to record their works or design them specifically for the camera. They’ve crashed the increasingly lucrative home video and DVD market, a rare profitable sector in our flailing economy. Dance artists are realizing that if their work can’t be located with the click of a remote, or found in a bin in a video store, it practically doesn’t exist, and they’re rushing to remedy the situation.

First Run Features boards the DVD bus with Dance for Camera, a 95-minute color compendium of six works that’s a useful primer of techniques. Swiss choreographer Pascal Magnin provides two lively pieces, Reines d’un Jour (1996) and Contrecoup (1997). Filmed dance can be liberated from the theater, gloriously as in Reines, set in a small village in the Swiss Alps. It can also be liberated from real time, flashing back and forth between “reality” and the leading woman’s disordered mental state, between violent and affectionate behavior, and between ordinary and oversize furniture, as it does in Contrecoup. The natural landscape and animal population of Reines, and its juxtaposition of folk dancing with “art” choreography, signals the best possible use of dance film. Measure (2001), by Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson of Seattle’s 33 Fainting Spells, illustrates the way the camera excels at revealing deep space, with a soft-shoe routine in a hallway. Rest in Peace, a sort of European Six Feet Under, reveals secrets of the deceased to their traumatized adult children. Canadian Michael Downing’s black-and-white Cornered abstracts a body shot in the corner of a room; Laura Taler’s prizewinning A Village Trilogy, also black-and-white, synthesizes, in Canadian landscapes, scenes that evoke the displacement felt by children in wartime.

Richard Move’s impersonation of Martha Graham, central to the rollicking cabaret “Martha @ Mother,” surfaces in Ghostlight, an 80-minute faux documentary that premieres May 8 at the Tribeca Film Festival (see An amusing exercise in multiple levels of parody, it features Ann Magnuson as a film director who studied with Martha, Rob Besserer as Erick Hawkins, Isaac Mizrahi as a chef, and Mark Morris as himself. The real star of Ghostlight, which seems pale to one who adored Move’s live shows, is Merce Cunningham’s light-filled Westbeth studio, in which much of it is shot; Christopher Herrmann directs the film in a soap-opera style that does not violate Graham’s story as we know it.

Kalpana, a 154-minute film completed in 1948 by legendary Indian dance pioneer Uday Shankar, will be screened at the Walter Reade Theater May 10 at 8 and May 11 and 12 at 1. Released as the British Raj was giving way to India’s independence movement, it’s a vast epic utilizing innovative techniques and framing derived from Shankar’s training as a visual artist. These screenings are co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Dance Films Association; DFA is now seeking submissions for its 2004 Dance on Camera Festival (entry forms are available online at

Come Let Us Dance, a 48-minute video by Los Angeles choreographer Karen Goodman, looks at the tradition of Yiddish dance in America, and at Nathan Vizonsky, the Polish choreographer who brought it here. Teaching the dances to older adults is actress-dancer Miriam Rochlin, a luminous figure now over 80 who came to Los Angeles after emigrating from Berlin (

The first annual “Pacifika-New York Hawaiian Film Festival,” May 16 through 18, opens at NYU’s Cantor Film Center with the world premiere of American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai’i, by Lisette Marie Flanary and Evann Siebens. Also on the festival roster is the first installment of Biography Hawai’i, which tells the story of Aunti Maiki, an influential hula master, and Kumu Hula: A Tradition of Teachers, directed by Michael Cowell. More information at or [email protected]

The first annual Metroarts/ Thirteen dance festival runs May 5 through June 1, with 24 hours of original programming by more than 15 different troupes. On this roster are videotapes of the strongest live events seen on local stages this season, including Stephen Petronio’s City of Twist and David Dorfman’s See Level, as well as the wonderful documentary Streb: Pop Action and other films screened at the 2003 Dance on Camera Festival. They can be viewed nightly on Time Warner Cable Channel 95 and Cablevision Systems Channel 174 by those with digital service; analog service carries them on weekends on TWC Channel 70 and Cablevision Channel 60.

Charles Dennis is at work on a film history of performance at P.S.122; his new The Gift, which he’ll perform May 2 and 3 at BAX, combines dance, theater, and video as he dances with his own image. Tiffany Mills choreographed director Amos Kollek’s Nowhere to Go but Up, an independent feature due out this year. Ezra Caldwell, who set out to study industrial design and wound up as a dancer-choreographer with has a soft spot for film, continues his video experiments with a virtual twin. He’ll display a new work incorporating video projections at the Dance Space gala on May 3 and 4; call 212-625-8369, ext. 55, for reservations.