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First-Annual Screendance Expo

The first-annual Northwest Screen Dance Exposition leapt onto the screen at the Bijou Cinemas Tuesday night (10/6), with a collection of short works that highlighted the burgeoning relationship between dance and film.

            Organized by producers John Watson and Dorene Carroll, the effort was sponsored by the UO and LCC Dance Programs, and served as a benefit for Danceability International.

            Dance and film have a long, intertwined history. A1896 film of Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine Danceby the pioneering film-makers Auguste and Louis Lumière, is a perfect example of that early marriage between dance – the most ancient, and most elusive of art forms – and film, a medium that artists are still experimenting with, more than a century later.

            “Working’ It” by writer/director Brad Burke was a crowd-pleaser. More like a short movie about a dancer, than a new dance work , the piece was nonetheless humorous and engaging. A great opener.

            Other standouts included choreographer/director and editor Shannon Mockli’s “Fluctuating Frequencies” - a tight, well-plotted, site-specific, interestingly choreographed, well-lighted piece - that placed dancers in an urban landscape, creating an effect of armature, with their spare, almost insect-like interconnected movement.

            Sarah Nemecek’s “In Here, Out There” explored local geography, contrasting artfully simple movement patterns in a variety of natural settings – the muddy beach, the forest floor, and a meadow, to strong effect.

            Other pieces had moments of arresting quality that I wanted to see more of: Mary Fitzgerald and Brad Garner’s “Nearby Far” featured one moment, when Garner tumbles down a sand dune, that was exquisite. Cinematographer Dmitri Von Klein captured the fluidity of the sand’s reflection, and the refreshingly human fall.

            In “Late Afternoon Sunshine”, filmmaker Antonio Anacan featured footage of choreographer and dancer Suzanne Haag’s feet. Haag is a ballet dancer, and here are these feet, the size of action heroes. I could have watched a piece that was only close-ups on feet –  with all the nuanced, varied and amazing things that a dancers foot can articulate. (And if s/he’s doing them well, we’ll likely lot notice.) 

            Likewise, choreographer Barbara Canal, Director Michele Manzini and Director of Photography Luciano Perbellini and Editor Valeria Lo Meo’s “Snags in Palladio” offered unusual settings (filming in Italy helps) and piquant relationship inquiries, like a chilling duet with one dancer facing away from the camera, her long hair obscuring her back, with the arm of another dancer reaching around her. Gives me willies just thinking about it. Evocative and moody. I liked it.

            This “screen dance” form asks a lot of the artist(s). In order to work, start to finish, a piece has to have stellar choreography, be well-lit and well-filmed, it has to have a sound component that enhances the experience, and then, probably most important, it has to be well-edited. In writing, we’d call it “killing our darlings” – the painful ritual of cutting extraneous words. (If it doesn’t develop the overall effect, it’s outta there. )

            Editing in dance is powerful. And it seems even more essential in this hybrid dance/film platform than it does three dimensional, live performance.

            As dance pioneer Doris Humphrey famously said, “Alldances are too long. Monotony is fatal; contrasts should be used.”

            All the pieces selected for this year’s Expo had merit. Each had a unique something to share, and moments of real clarity and interest.

            ButHumphrey’s advice may apply to the works that tended to pool into repetitive eddies, either with movement that lacked dynamic structure, or film techniques that started fresh, but became a little gimmicky.

            Perhaps these works may have benefitted from greater exploration of possibilities in speed, shape and relationships.