After living in New York City and performing in various companies and projects, I became restless without my own creative outlet and living solely as a performer. I made the decision to return to my own choreography and started a small company. I understood and anticipated a slow growth based on the limited man power, starting from the ground up, and spent four years growing the company between New York City, Richmond, and Chicago. Through that time and performing at multiple venues, both externally and self produced, our audience turnout was always hit or miss. I began to take note of other companies of my size and stature and their attendance records at various shows. Fewer and fewer were coming out and filling seats. Where was the audience going? Was it a sign of economic times or technological advances? I began making work in New York in 2008, right in the midst of our nation’s financial crisis. As we entered a recession, people began cutting back on non-necessities. From 2004 to 2013, less than ten years’ time, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn formed as a way to communicate, create, and exchange content. This increased accessibility and allowed for instant gratification. I, like many of my small to mid-size choreographer colleagues, would spend an entire year on generating work, collaborating with performers, and securing funding to then fall short in attendance. I was creating work to connect with and expand my audience, so where were they?
With the rise of internet accessibility and dance on primetime television, I wondered if the concert dance audience had chosen a different, more convenient route in supporting dance. At their lowest ratings, So You Think You Can Dance has 4.3 million viewers. Additionally, with their multiple angle shots, popular music, celebrity judges, and a look at both the process and performance, it is hard to compete. Likewise, one billion YouTube users frequent the site monthly, with many of their viral videos being dance related. Environmentally, what these two models have in common is free access from the comfort of your home. The audience tally is unable to be surpassed in comparison to proscenium theatre performances. For these reasons, I question the benefits of accepting technological advances within our practice, and with these advances, how can artists keep dance making viable in a two dimensional world? These questions set me on my initial path of research.
My thesis tied directly into these interests. I conducted comparative research in front of a panel of dancers and non-dancers, showing a live performance followed by a dance film of the same choreography. This study was immensely important to my research due to the overwhelming response that was received by the panel. The conversations that were shared fluctuated from the saturation of color on the screen, the texture of sound; and hearing the live, breathing, moving body. Separately, other topics discussed were social media’s role in keeping dance audiences alive and the convenience of watching dance on the internet. This research became not about finding an answer of which is best, but about the conversations that this topic awakened and building a community within the genre where all voices would be heard.
In an attempt to take these conversations with me into my Thesis work, I focused specifically on the perspectives one has while watching performance and how it affects the senses of the eyes and ears. In a proscenium theatre setting, the viewer has control over what he/she chooses to look at in a live performance, but we take away that control when creating Screendance. We dictate what the viewer sees though filming and also within the edit. For example, while a viewer can experience full bodies on stage and watch a duet in its entirety, an editor can choose to isolate the intimacy of the dancers’ hands in the duet and then cut to their legs, eliminating the choice of where the viewer should look. While I believe that this ability is important for video dance, I was aiming to replicate the spatial flow of live performance on the screen by separating the film across multiple monitors. By negating the condensed option of the entire performance on one screen and expanding it, I played with viewer’s choice to look where they desire over the entire landscape. Multiple movement sequences happened at once, giving the power back to the viewer to activate their senses and let their natural perspective materialize. Using a separate, but natural soundscape for each monitor will amplify the environment in the film and connect the performers to the audience through breath and sound of movement. Separately, I left Formalism for Realism in an additional film showing the first person perspective of the dancers performing the piece, using action cameras attached to each dancer’s body. This perspective showed motion from the inside, perpetuating a kinesthetic viewership for the audience.
In my practice, I focus specifically on three different ways to film movement: creating form from the bodies on the screen with no camera mobility, creating form in the edits, and creating form with camera mobility. To me, they each hold their own importance. Camera movement with a still body can be just as important as a still shot with moving bodies. The eye of the viewer is moving with the motion, regardless from the body or camera, so it’s important not to switch the direction of the motion drastically from clip to clip. Choreographically, each project is different. The choreography is generated and decided upon, based on the environment and location of the film. Additionally, exploration of movement through improvisation on site is a key factor in each project.
Since this transference of dance consumption is relatively new, in comparison to concert dance, I feel it’s important in my research to continually view dance films and compare the trends and patterns of choreographers and filmmakers such as Boris Seewald, Victor Quijada, Nathan Drabsch, Magali Charrier, and Simon Fildes, among others. Investigating the reasons for success behind their dance films, I examine their arch through choreography, filming, and editing techniques. Additionally, my research is not limited to content and form to keep the performance sustainable, but also the avenues of exhibition. I question the changes within the way one presents a dance performance. What happens when you see a dance performance in a theatre with a group of people compared to seeing a performance at home, by yourself? Is a screening in a film festival the idyllic outlet for a dance film, or is it an installation in a gallery? Can video dance be kept completely online and if so, does it become a question of proprietorship on the Internet? How can social media help in distribution?
photo: Hannah C. Stokes