Dance for the Camera surveys the subconscious.
“There’s a dreamlike quality to dance films in general,” says Dance for the Camera curator Jan Bartoszek. “You can go into the psyche and create different environments than you can onstage. The sky’s the limit.”
Bartoszek’s love affair with dance cinema was ignited in a college media-studies class, where she saw Norman McLaren’s 1968 experiment, Pas de deux. In it, blunt side lighting and high contrast reduce two dancers to white outlines in a black void; McLaren used an optical printer to show them shedding and entering freeze-frames of their own movements. “It blew me away,” Bartoszek says.
Jackie & Judy, a digital homage to Pas de deux by veteran music-video director Phil Harder and NYC choreographers Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner, is one of the shorts Bartoszek, artistic director of local contemporary troupe Hedwig Dances, and Sarah Best, an independent artist and curator, chose for their fourth annual festival, a free hour-long program at the Chicago Cultural Center Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13. Jackie & Judy’s tumbling energy, along with this year’s six other choices, proves a theme of sleepers’ journeys fits the genre like a glove.
Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s nap-gone-awry, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), displays the influence of surrealist films like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s collab Un Chien Andalou: Everyday objects such as a key and loaf of bread are charged and mysterious. It also bears touches of film noir, which birthed a distinct style of poster art, combining photography and illustration, that inspired Vickie Mendoza’s The Last Martini. At last year’s Dance Camera West in L.A., Mendoza explained that Martini’s choppy vibrancy was created using rotoscoped stills culled from mini DV footage of her dancers, and images she cut out, by hand, of print photographs taken on 35-millimeter film during the same shoot. (Her right thumb and forefinger “were numb for about six months,” she said.) Background animation was added in watercolor; the visual language of ’40s and ’50s movie posters becomes a universe of its own.
Animation of a slicker sort appears in Douwe Dijkstra’s Beguine, set to Dutch band De Kift’s song of the same name. Dumped out of a floating room housing a dance party, a man in a suit, with the nonchalance of someone half asleep, falls through a blood-red gelatinous mass and climbs into a photocopier with the interior dimensions of Mary Poppins’s carpetbag. Chámame also charts fantastic travel but through a lush, natural setting: the Paraná River, which begins in Brazil and becomes the border between Paraguay and filmmaker Silvina Szperling’s native Argentina.
Representing the nightmare end of the dream spectrum is Danse Macabre by Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires, a chilly postmortem that’s racked up 36 awards at film festivals around the world. Completing the lineup is a contribution from Deirdre Towers, director of the Dance Films Association’s annual festival in New York. Her (Black) Light pares dance cinema to its essence: Katherine Crockett, a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company, performs a flamenco solo. It’s not unlike something you might see at a live dance show…if the room were constantly changing and your chair could fly around inside it.
A networking reception precedes Dance for the Camera 2010: R.E.M./Dreamscapes Tuesday 12, and a discussion follows it Wednesday 13.