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Dance on film and video.

December marked the welcome return of the Dance on Camera Festival to Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. In this, the second year of the joint collaboration between the Dance Film Association (DFA) and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a scheduling pattern has emerged: The opening film appears to have been chosen mainly to attract an audience. Last year, Elusive Muse, a tearjerking documentary on Suzanne Farrell, hardly compared artistically with Falling Downstairs, a chronicle of a collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma and Mark Morris. This year there was a dramatic gap in quality between the opening film, Return of the Firebird, by Russian dancer Andris Liepa, and the festival's outstanding entry, Enter Achilles, by Britain's DV8 Physical Theatre. Again, many of the first-day crowd left after the opening film; the potential of dance and film obviously interested them less than did Farrell or Liepa. On the second day this year, however, the house was packed. Clearly, an audience for dance on film is emerging, even when stars are not involved. Soon, perhaps, we can look forward to extended and repeated showings of DFA entries.

A bleak urban pub is the setting for choreographer Lloyd Newson's Enter Achilles (50 minutes). The dance explores relationships among eight men trapped in ritualized beer drinking and concomitant macho role-playing. Director Clara Van Gool's camera penetrates their facades, exposing the raw physical and emotional shifts that mark Newson's endlessly inventive group choreography. Each of the extraordinary performers emerges as a distinct personality as guarded interaction careens from playful, acrobatic roughhouse (with mugs of beer always kept upright) to vicious sexual taunts. A mysterious intruder, flights of fantasy, and outrageous humor--the takeoff of Saturday Night Fever is fabulous--merely postpone the inevitable pain of the video's climax. What was Newson thinking when he had that plastic sex doll triumphantly reappear over the top of a brick wall after her apparent destruction? It is a striking allusion to the conclusion of Michel Fokine's Petrouchka, another doll not soon forgotten.

Petrouchka and two other Fokine ballets, The Firebird and Scheherazade, comprise Liepa's extravagant film Return of the Firebird (116 minutes). These ballets, produced in Europe more than eighty years ago by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, were first performed in Russia in the early 1990s in reconstructions by Liepa. Now, on film, they have the glitzy look of 1950s Hollywood musicals, with an overemphasis on elaborate sets and costumes. Unfortunately, the extraordinary original designs by Leon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, and Alexander Golovin were not reproduced. Instead of Benois's stunning construction for Petrouchka's cell, there is a spacescape, its shiny black floor hinged with white crystalline pyramids, while the quarters of the Moor ("Blackmore" in this version) resemble a Miami Beach postcard. Overstated gestures and special effects overwhelm much of the dancing, the one exception being Nina Ananiashvili's stunning performance as the Firebird.

Liepa insists that his intention was to make a "film version of those ballets," yet he opens with footage of the Bolshoi's Saisons Russes stage curtain and closes with some bows from a live performance. And some of the performers bowing are different from those in the film. One can applaud his intentions but not the results.

Territorial Claims (20 minutes) was another entry based on a staged work. This enigmatic Irish video, choreographed by Mary Nunan and directed by Donal Haughey, is a series of stark, seemingly unrelated images that coexist and intersect in the activity of its four dancers. Although it opens with two women performing Irish step dances barefoot on an earth-covered floor, this is no Riverdance. A man seated at a table collates, separates, reassembles, stacks, and rhythmically rubber-stamps sheets of paper. Another man lies writhing in the dirt. Caught in repetitive structures, the four dancers consistently rearrange themselves, but their activity, however wrought with force, is uneasy, and ultimately powerless. The haunting quality of the video is enhanced by its limited palette--bleached costumes, brown earth, white paper, and a solitary gray table.

Rather than a record of an existing dance, the Swiss Reines d'un Jour (25 minutes) is a creative collaboration between choreographers Marie-Louise Nespolo and Christine Kung and director Pascal Magnin. A sensual, mysterious celebration of life, the video commences with the dancers repeatedly tumbling over and into one another on a lush green mountainside. Their antics are wryly observed by both people and animals from the local village. As the video progresses, the dancers' ecstatic frolic--imitating fighting bulls, playing hide-and-seek with local children, and interpreting an ancestral legend--is gradually interwoven into the work, festivals, and mythology of the community. Magnin's unexpected angles, intense close-ups, and rhythmic editing seduce the viewer into this fecund, pastoral landscape. You can feel the grass and smell the earth.

Another unusual fantasy is Greenman (10 minutes), a British video directed by Peter Anderson and choreographed by Rosemary Lee. Ostensibly about a man alone in a stone tower, the work's power evolves from the succession of unanticipated discoveries that he makes going through a magical desk. The colors, textures, and shapes of natural phenomena--leaves, nuts, stones, water--evolve in a dramatic kaleidoscope of evocative images.

The enduring power of black-and-white imagery was critical in three other works. The British Exit (10 minutes), choreographed by Jamie Walton and also directed by Van Gool, portrays a surreal moment with dancers tearing through damp underground tunnels and bouncing off walls and each other in a state of inexplicable panic. In Camara (16 minutes), a Canadian video directed by Gretchen Schiller and choreographed by Schiller and capoeira dancer Deraldo Ferreira, a collage of voice-overs and music by Grupo de Capoeira Angola Camara complements the floating images of Ferreira dancing. Since much of what he does is shown in slow motion through angled shots that obscure body parts, the spiritual rather than the physical nature of capoeira is better communicated.

Special effects are also critical in Chorea (5 minutes), a film choreographed and directed by Jodi Kaplan, about two dancers on a rooftop and in a mirrored studio. For Kaplan, reflected images are just one element in a bag of tricks that extricates the dancers from the mundane conventions of gravity and time.

Another DFA program of interest was the New York Expo Short Film and Video and New Media at the New School at which winners of DFA and Bob Fosse awards were shown, enabling infrequent television watchers to catch up on the best dance in commercials and music videos. One independent entry, Boy (5 minutes), choreographed and directed by the British team of Anderson and Lee that made Greenman, merits special note. This exquisite gem is about a young boy cavorting with his imagined likeness along the dunes and shores of a pristine beach. Through repetition, slow and arrested motion, and inspired editing, these filmmakers have orchestrated his leaps and falls, slides and runs into the most passionate of dances.

Rose Anne Thom is a contributing editor of Dance Magazine.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:The Moving Image
Author:Thom, Rose Anne
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1998
Previous Article:Harvey Hysell: the quiet hero of classical ballet.
Next Article:Joyce Theater, New York, New York, January 6-25, 1998.

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