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Friday, October 10, 2008

Moves08 - Dance Theatre Journal Vol 23:1

‘Screendance is dead - Long live screendance’.1 This catchy sloganeering emerged as a rallying cry from the recent Open Source Video Dance Symposium, reflecting an artform shift from the on-screen adaption of ready-made dance, towards a more fluid and choreographically-led approach to practice. Over five days in April, under Pascale Moyse’s continuing direction, Manchester-based Moves cast its programming net wider than traditional notions of screendance would generally allow, in its second incarnation as an independent event. Development has coincided with a nationally changing festival landscape, as the loss of London-based Dance on Screen has been balanced by a compensatory growth of activity in Brighton and the North West. As a result, Moves geographical base has expanded rapidly to include regionally-based partner venues; a Northern England-wide public screen touring programme, and a national and international proliferation of its post-festival touring circuit.

With a remit to programme across genres, the festival has managed to side-step any charges of ghettoisation, catering for special interest groups including animators, short film makers, sound and digital artists, in addition to its core screendance audience. This has allowed for the emergence of a strong regionally-based practitioner grouping, cannily nurtured by an emphasis on participatory events, in the form of filmmaking labs; conference strand and well-attended discussion forums. From the latter, cross-platform networking emerged as an area of particular significance. A revelatory moment, and a forest of raised hands, followed Katy Dymoke’s request to identify all those in the room with any networked affiliations, while a series of artists voiced an increasingly independent stance towards the issue of funding, summarised in Mariela Greil’s observation, ‘I couldn’t wait any longer for that so I got up and did it myself’.

A commitment to non-traditional sites this year combined a venture into podcasting with screening venues ranging from city centre bars to Piccadilly Station. Staging such interventions is a risky business, and the potentially conflicting demands of public accessibility and optimum viewing conditions were tackled head on by placement of Claudia Kappenberg’s Moebius installation (2008) within a glass-fronted public building, viewable to passers-by from a Manchester street corner. Location and form combined in a fuller realisation of Kappenberg’s practice than previous placings within single screen festival format have allowed. Cleanly projected across three squat plinths, and lighting up Manchester dusk, archive footage merged into arresting abstraction, as newly-generated, body-centred imagery functioned as a point of mediation between inner and outer, archival and contemporary, memory and present tense.

Over a five day screening schedule, seven individually themed programmes set narratively-based short films against animation and dance-centred work, complemented by guest-curated slots from the archives of Cananda’s BravoFACT and the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival. Sequentially-ordered screening can trigger overload, as carefully constructed, self-contained worlds clash and merge in a bid for viewing attention. As Moves’ programming strength lies in the profusion of content, the planned addition of breathing spaces between works will benefit audience experience and artists’ cause. Woven through the fabric of individual programmes, distinctive examples of international work included Laurent Achard’s sound-based evocation of inward experience in Fear Little Hunter (2004); Lutz Gregor’s juxtaposition of real-time narrative with non-linearity in Maps of Emotion (2008) and Yves Ackerman’s Prototype (2007), where a single male figure, viewed face-on against a featureless backdrop, flails and buckles in near-abstracted slow-motion amid impact-driven clouds of dust, in a striking decontextualisation of action-film violence.

In a northward migration from its Brighton base, a specially-arranged edition of the Dance for Camera Nights series focussed in depth on the working processes of British-based makers. Curated by South East Dance and chaired for Moves by Marisa Zanotti, the creative paths followed by Rachel Davies, Simon Ellis and Andy Wood provided a shifting focus for debate, with a careful dissection of current work led by Davies’ large-scale interweaving of image, sound and personal testimony, created in installation form in 2007 for the Manchester Festival. The Assembly bears the imprint of earlier work Gold (2004) in its focus on the interconnected social and artistic experience of teenaged girls, in this instance as members of a choir. Davies’ practice appears to have expanded to fill the demands of creating on a wider canvas, as, in the first of three excerpts, and sited within an empty school music room, the layered voices of unseen now-adult women, reconnecting through memory with their earlier selves, are set against a gradual shift from sunlight to darkness. Elsewhere Davies makes use of a highly polished ‘music video’ aesthetic, floating blossom-pink petals across the whispered singing of Boy Band lyrics, contrasting with documentary-style rehearsal footage of a contemporary choir. The young women's’ greeting and grooming rituals subsequently exaggerate into gesture-based vocabulary, guided through formally-gowned recital by conducting hands. With a professional grounding in visual arts, rather than dance, Davies has, in previous work, relied on the input of externally generated movement, collaborating with Annie Lok in We Got Old (2002); Hanna Gillgren for Gold, and Manchester-based dance artist Julia Griffin for The Assembly. A notion of choreographic engagement most clearly emerges, however, from Davies’ own distinctive sense of camera journey and compositional overview.

In contrast, Simon Ellis’ experimentation with brevity of timeframe included a series of two-second video sequences, created for iPod viewing, with tiny increments of manipulated movement distinguished by a staccato, blink-and-you-miss-it quality. Additionally, Ellis’ Then/Now (2007), closely framed the throat movement of a female figure, set against disquietingly heightened breath sound, evoking a bodily memory of trauma with extreme economy of means. Leeds-based Andy Wood’s recently filmed work-in-progress focussed on the shifting visual and spatial relationship of contact-based improvisers to camera. Brian Massumi has outlined the differences between the visual system, which he describes as an ‘exoreferential sense, registering distances from the eye’ and that of proprioception, which, he states, is a self-referential process of registering ‘displacements of the parts of the body relative to each other’.2 Wood’s practice currently seems poised on the brink of abandoning the traditionally distanced, directorial stance of the ‘outside eye’ to capture proprioceptive engagement from within a mutual, movement-led, improvisatory basis. Exploring similar territory, Wood’s Three’s A Crowd (2007) foregrounded the intense mutual focus of a male/female duet, with sudden push-pull shifts of physical and emotional dynamic captured at close quarters by the also moving camera.

Elsewhere, work by British-based artists Becky Edmunds and Alex Reuben featured prominently. Brighton-based Edmunds has spoken of previous work, such as Have You Started Dancing Yet? (2004), as inhabiting a zone ‘between documentation and documentary’.3 Recent work, created in partnership with sound artist Scott Smith, and cross-scheduled throughout programmes, revealed a marked shift in practice. A linear version of the’ multi-screen installation Stones and Bones (2007) highlighted Edmunds’ extreme selectivity of focus, defamiliarising the actions of a rocking body, a nodding head, a sketching hand. Stan Brakhage has stated that ‘as the eye moves, the body is in motion’ 4 and the work’s repetition and layering of sound and image combined to create a kinesthetically-oriented viewing experience of near-hypnotic overload, in a co-equation of eye, hand and mind. In the first of two works developed from an Argentinean-set South East Dance and Arts Council England Fellowship, Heat:Light:Motion (2007) set mirage-like emergences and disappearances of a never fully visible figure against an unchanging horizon line, with alternating body movement and stillnesses punctuated by the wind-whipped motion of a skirt. The single-shot work On The Surface (2007) pushed graphic simplicity and conceptual economy to extremes, as the camera recedes from the vertical still point of a single figure, diminishing in scale relative to the bleached expansion of the surrounding plain. Both of the latter works filter Edmunds’ approach through a more overtly stylised engagement with movement content, while remaining atmospherically distinct.

In an innovative festival commission, Alex Reuben, currently British Council Artist in Residence in Brazil, assembled a customised programme of work created over the course of the last seven years, drawing on his music-led professional background. At a subsequent Question and Answer session, Reuben spoke of the importance for makers of continued artistic development, and Reuben’s own creative experimentation ran as a unifying thread throughout the programme. A series of short pieces, including the elegantly pleasing simplicity of an animated line, swaying in rhythm to a music-driven pulse, in Que Pasa (2001), and the musically-governed profusion of graphic elements in Line Dance (2004), were interspersed with excerpts from the larger-scale Routes (2007). Reuben has reworked the latter piece, now conforming to the non-linear traditions of poetic documentary-making, into a series of music and movement-led encounters, located culturally and geographically within the landscape of the southern U.S. states. Impromptu performances to camera include ritualised Native American step-patterning and the casual virtuosity of porch-set cloggers, as the improvisatory basis of an often-moving camera matched the non-linearity of the work as a whole. The event’s personalised format reflected this year’s festival focus relating sound and image - also integral to Reuben’s practice-base - while providing a time-sliced overview of individual output.

Maya Deren was of the opinion that a grounding in ‘one of the time arts - i.e. the dance or music’. was an ideal preparation for a career in filmmaking.5 Cross-matching influences across a spectrum of British-based work reveals areas of commonality in Kappenberg and Davies’ visual arts training; Wood and Rueuben’s backgrounds in both visual art and music, and Wood, Edmunds and Reubens’ improvisatory camera style. Diversity of influence supplied a throughline to festival programming in a snapshot of current British practice, ranging from the careful matching of movement to landscape in Imogen Sidworthy’s 7A.M. (2006); to the performatively-oriented playfulness of Liz Aggiss’ Diva (2007). Elsewhere, Julie Angel set the hyper-motility of practising parkouristes against concretised urban angularity in MySpace (2005), while the image-based fluency of Lisa May Thomas’ The Elders (2006), translated to the modestly-scaled grammar of schools-based work in Challenge 59/Fruity Action(2007), intercutting the rolling action of an apple with the dislocating shock of a dive into water. Boldizsar Csernak’s split-screen experimentation set close cropped hand against full figure framing in A Single Glass of Water Lights Up The World (2008), while a newly-added musical score provided further layering to the visually-evocative mix of monochrome and colour footage in Phillipa Thomas’ Electric Desert (2006). For the final night programme, Susanna Wallins’ South-East Dance produced and IMZ award-winning Night Practice (2006) carved out a range of territory entirely of its own, in a highly original screen conceptualisation, as elements of documentary, narrative and close-framed motion conjured an ambiguous and distinctive atmospheric tone from a minimal palette of constituent parts.

The ‘Open Source Declaration’ reflects the scattering and reconfiguration of previously familiar screendance tropes, refracted by artists through a patchwork of individualised practice, and foregrounded by the eclecticism-in-action of Moves’ programming policy. The issue of curation is one currently at the forefront of debate within the closely-knit professional grouping of screendance makers, programmers and academics. The sheer breadth of work provided by Moves’ curatorial decision making allows for contextualisation across genres, and access to a range of pieces hard to encounter elsewhere. Moves - like screendance - is a rapidly evolving creature, operating within a cultural climate where old certainties, definitions and assumptions relating to the nature of festivals, funding, dance, simply no longer apply. Moves achievement lies in acknowledging the artform’s evolutionary potential, and locating it within the wider field of contemporary moving image. If screendance is dead, long live screendance.


1 Open Source Video Dance Symposium, held at the Findhorn Foundation in North East Scotland, November 2007.

2 Brian Massumi 2002 Parables for the Virtual London Duke University Press p.179

3 Research seminar held at London School of Contemporary Dance, October 2006

4 Bruce McPherson (ed.) 2001 Essential Brakhage New York, McPherson & Company
p.124

5 Bruce McPherson (ed.) 2005 Essential Deren: Collected Writings on Film by Maya Deren New York McPherson & Company p.131

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