Dance on Screen Festival 2004 - Open Forum
November 7-14, 2004 -- The Place, London
There was a happy ending to Rajyashree Ramamurthi’s "The Incomplete Autobiography" at The Place’s 2004 Dance on Screen festival on Sunday 14th November. As the Open Forum prize winner came to collect her flowers, she was as quietly spoken and unassuming as when she had earlier introduced her dance film, billed second at the event. “The Incomplete Autobiography” itself also had an understated charm: a young girl acts out the events described by the adult voiceover recalling simple games and the complexity of a child’s imagination. All these images are elegantly woven into a sequence of sepia-stained frames that are fragments of longer stories, but somehow fit together to make a statement about childhood as British Asian female. A flash of braided hair skipping down a suburban back alleyway. A dark-skinned baby doll with a hole in her forehead. Hand-drawn maps connecting imaginary places. A history of a specific life yet somehow there much here that anyone could relate to, and more importantly, be touched by.
I think that charm may have been the magical ingredient that tipped the judges vote towards Ramamurthi’s film, as the programme presented the usual wealth of artistry, novelty, nationalities, and ingenious stretching of shoestring budgets we have come to expect from Open Forum. Introduced by The Place’s Artistic Development Director, Theresa Beattie, the films had been selected by herself and an equally select panel of dance film cognoscenti. Amongst the selection criteria were: the originality of the concept; and the cohesion of choreographic and directorial skill.
For me, there were two other films on the programme besides "The Unfinished Autobiography" that stood out as possessing an abundance of these ingredients. Although they may have had the advantage of more financial support than Ramamurthi’s film, David McCormick and Benedict Johnson’s "Cut out and Keep" and Gianluca Bonomo’s "Settlement 04" both shone out as having realised original concepts in visually arresting fusions of human movement and camerawork.
A seventies aesthetic pervaded "Cut out and Keep", from the typeset of the credits to the modish costumes, lurid interior decor and funky afro hairdos. A solo male performer appears before the camera in various guises, performing facets of the black male’s persona from gun-weilding gangsta to dragged-up granny. All this unravels to the beat of Mark Ball’s retro-inspired soundtrack. The camerawork ducks and dives between close close-ups so cleverly framed that we cannot tell whether the skin on a limb belongs to an arm or a leg, speeded-up shots of the body that make frenetic movement appear almost spasmodic, and lingering, body-hugging dollies creating a dizzying window into the physicality of the performer (whose mostly blank face gives nothing away).
Made possible through the facilities provided by the Dance on Screen Production Award 2003, "Settlement 04" was introduced by heavily-accented director Gianluca Bonomo, who led us to believe that we were about to see a narrative film. He described an encounter between four grotesque, unconventional characters who have found themselves and each other in some kind of no-mans-land, and implied that the film would depict the weird relationships that ensue between these strange creatures. But the ‘place’ he described turned out to be an imaginary one, as the entire sequence was shot in what appeared to be a bare industrial warehouse.
Strange as they were in person, these four characters seemed to share more than a penchant for wearing black hooded unitards, gothic make-up and rubber gloves, in that they were existing in an even weirder virtual space in their heads. Communicating through gurning, tongue waggling and incomprehensible hand gestures, the settlement residents demonstrated surprisingly tight choreography considering their mental state. The overall effect was reminiscent of a Far Eastern contemporary dance aesthetic (also seeping through the Middle East) that cultivates new movement vocabulary to present the human body almost as another biological form, with hints of the emotional catharsis of Butoh-based dance techniques.
There were five other films on the programme, all highly eligible for the prize:
"REM": Kyra Norman & Thomas Hall
It will be another year before the next Dance on Screen festival, but watch out to see what Rajyashree Ramamurthi will do with the facilities and financial assistance provided by the Open Forum prize, as it is sure to be worth the wait.
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