San Francisco Dance Film Festival
by Heather Desaulniers
Opening Night - Thursday, March 15th
"Personal Space" - Netherlands, 2010
This year's San Francisco Dance Film Festival opened with "Personal Space"- a short piece, seven minutes in length, from The Netherlands. In the first scene, we join an older couple sitting together, the woman pouring and stirring tea; the man reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe. Quickly, the woman drifts away to a world of make believe - she imagines and sees in her mind's eye, a young woman dancing and moving within a constrained box. The older woman sporadically injects herself into this mental picture, joining her younger counterpart in that encasement. As the film ends, we return to the first scene (with the same everyday tasks as before) except now the young woman is the one pouring tea and sitting with the older man.
Through the imagined scenario, we come to understand and note "Personal Space's" primary theme: a trapped sense of self. The effect was both visually interesting and choreographically challenging. However, my fascination was more with the pedestrian movements that occurred at the opening and closing of the short film. As the shot focused in on these daily activities, they took on a very dance-like quality. The slow circular stirring of the woman's tea transformed into much more than a habitual action; it became a mesmerizing piece of dance.
"Viool in de Nacht" - Netherlands, 2010
Though both 'shorts' on opening night were by the same director, they each featured a different choreographer, which resulted in two delightfully disparate results. "Viool in de Nacht" follows one man who appears to be heading home at the end of his day when he encounters a street violinist. The music transforms this dancer and his physical being as he works through a multi-faceted reaction to the melodic phrases: torment, influence and inspiration.
One of the primary tenets of neoclassical choreography is how movement and music are related to each other or in other words, how the choreography interprets the musical score. "Viool in de Nacht" definitely flirted with this neoclassical relationship between movement and music, but the director and choreographer took it a step further. In this case, the dancer was not interpreting the music, instead, he became the instrument that brought the music to fruition. His stunning solo was from the perspective of the violin itself. One particular standout moment in the six minute piece was when a series of haunting chords are played, each without any resolution. During these chords, the dancer ran from point to point in the space looking for the right direction, the direction of escape, the direction that would bring him back to peace. And as he walked away dejected from each place, he truly was the diminuendo and the rallantando in the violin's score.
"Never Stand Still" - USA, 2011
A great documentary has a fascinating topic, picturesque visuals and captivating information. "Never Stand Still" brings all of these together to celebrate the legacy of Jacob's Pillow. Narrated by Bill T. Jones, the film pairs historic photos and footage with shots of 'The Pillow' as it is today. This eighty-minute chronology is a must-see documentary for all dancers - every genre; every level; everyone should see this artistic review.
"Never Stand Still" allows the viewer to experience Jacob's Pillow as a four-part living entity. First, it was and is a developer - of talent, of technique, of new artistic collaborations and endeavors. Rasta Thomas is interviewed extensively in the film, primarily about the launching of his new company, "Bad Boys of Dance". He made the brilliant choice to do so at Jacob's Pillow, hearkening back to one of Ted Shawn's initial hopes for this unique space: a desire to showcase, preserve and celebrate male dancing. Second, we come to understand 'The Pillow" as a teacher of professionalism. The student programs allow the participants to really experience and understand company life. We watched a group of young dancers in the midst of a new piece of choreography, learning the steps and staging in a matter of four days. This immersion gives them a glimpse into what will be expected of them during their professional careers - lessons that are integral to their overall arts education. Next comes the archive and lineage that is Jacob's Pillow. A deep and lengthy history resides in this place: the great choreographers who taught there, the amazing dancers who studied there and the world renowned companies who performed there. "Never Stand Still's" interviews (including Mark Morris, Judith Jamison, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Suzanne Farrell) spoke of its historic legacy and how past and present artistic contributions work together to create its deep and lasting story. Finally, "Never Stand Still" notes that Jacob's Pillow was and still is a creative laboratory for movement and choreography. This Massachusetts' farm is the place to create new work, experiment with new style and venture outside of your comfort zone.
Saturday, March 17th
"New London Calling" - UK, 2010
"New London Calling" examines egalitarianism in movement by looking at a fascinating example - children's games. The ten-minute film shows a group of school children engaged in all different types of 'school yard activities' - monkey bars, kite flying, jumping rope, dodgeball, telephone, skateboarding - and reveals the hidden choreography in playtime. Director Alla Kovgan demonstrates how dance is present in unexpected places and that it is accessible to and participated in by all, no matter size, shape or ability. As these kids were delighting in the physicality of the games, there was also a hint of sadness. As adults, have we lost that child-like wonder? How can we maintain and celebrate the pure joy of egalitarian movement?
"Origami" - USA, 2011
RJ Muna's "Origami" is a visual thesis; a study of how the body creates shape in space. A plus-sign of light filters above and among two dancers, as they perform varied floorwork sequences. Muna's folding together of the light and the body felt like watching the internal microscopic level of a snowflake. As the bodies and light came together and ventured away from each other, the three minutes of film was showing the change in a snowflake as it falls from the sky to the earth. "Origami" is dance as structure; dance as form and dance as architecture.
"Love Song" - Israel, 2011
"Love Song" faded in to find a soloist in the desert sand with a dark red rose. As the dance began, the rose became his pas de deux partner, the entity that he was touching - in his teeth, behind his knee, in his hands and in his toes. This rose represented something or someone that he loved with his entire soul and every single inch of his being. And as the film ended, a woman walked behind the dancer in the sand and then disappeared. The rose was her - he was dancing a duet with this woman even though she wasn't really there.
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