Break-a-Leg confronts No-Legs in "The Cost of Living" by director, choreographer and writer Lloyd Newson at the 10th Annual "Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance".
The Cost of Living
United Kingdom - 2004
Director, Choreographer, Writer: Lloyd Newson
Producer: Nikki Weston
Dance Company: DV8 Physical Theatre
Length: 34 minutes, 29 seconds
"The Cost of Living" is part dance film, part drama. The stories are told through a combination of stylized movement and dialogue. I was struck that the lead role is played by a man with both legs amputated. His muscled arms are his legs, and his palms, his feet. But he moved with amazing grace. And he danced with even more amazing grace!
In the film, he performed a sexy solo in a bar, moving on the counter as he tries to invite someone to dance with him. In a brilliant choreography, a group of dancers imitate his movements by also "walking" with their hands while the rest of the body drags along. The beauty is in the unison sway and the creation of a whole movement vocabulary that stem from a movement-limited body. And finally, in a dance studio scene, he performed the most beautiful duet with a (able-bodied) dancer. The smoothness and gracefulness in which he executed turns and in guiding his partner would put any dancer to shame.
We can't dance because we are too fat, too thin, too old, too young, can't jump high enough, can't split, have a bad back, broke a toe, broke a leg.... Try no legs.
From program notes:
DIRECTING DANCE FOR THE SCREEN
- Douglas Rosenberg, Director and Currator
2005 marks the tenth consecutive year for ADF's Dancing for the Camera: International Festival of Film and Video Dance. In the ten years since the festival's inception, much has changed in the landscape of screendance. The festival's focus, however, has remained much the same. Each year the jury members, accomplished both as choreographers and as filmmakers, look not only for a synergy between filmmaker and choreographer, but also between films submitted for consideration. It can be said that ADF's Dancing for the Camera is a director's festival. The makeup of the jury is equal parts movers and photographers of movement, so as the jury builds a program, an esthetic tends to emerge in which dance and filmmaking share space equally on screen. Screendance in general has a tendency to be viewed or programmed as a choreographer's medium and it is often the choreographer who is foregrounded as the dominant force within the work. Dancing for the Camera programs work in which the film itself is foregrounded, which often means that it is the director as much as the choreographer who is shaping the work.
A director's film is one in which there is an objective distance between the dance and the cinematic articulation of it. The director's work is in the details of bringing a dance to life on screen; this process begins in the composition of moving images as the dance is mined for its cinematic possibilities. In other words, the director works in much the same way as an archeologist might: unearthing, revealing, and ultimately re-connecting the disparate parts collected at the site of the excavation.
As the process unfolds, the dance becomes its filmic self. Often, the movement the choreographer invented in studio bends to a new shape. In a sense, choreographic ego gives way to the emergent identity of the film. The process of making a screendance is much like direct carving, in which the sculptor removes mass until the form reveals itself. Somewhere within the social space of a film shoot, the work reveals itself. It may be in the shooting; it may be in editing; but it requires an openness to the possibilities of the medium to carve or compel its own form.
Screendance assumes many forms. Australian choreographer and filmmaker Richard James Allen best describes the form that audience have most often encountered in the ten years of ADF's Dancing for the Camera. The definition of screendance proposed by Allen and his partner Karen Pearlman is "stories told by the body." Stories told by the body implies that the corporeal body is present in the work, and that the body is the instrument of inscription, much as a pen on paper articulates other languages. It implies that the body is the center of the work, the focus, even as the body is writing simultaneously a kind of personal history or diary. The body telling stories through the medium of film or video is, at is best compelling and altogether distinct form the experience of concert dance.
It is the art of filmmaking that translates the liveness of dance in its indigenous form to the ofte-deadening space of the screen. It is in the space between the choreographer's eye and that of the filmmaker that the synergistic relationship betwen dance and the moving image is articulated. It is that synergy which produces a work for the screen that operates on a visceral, kinesthetic plane as well as on a logical, narrative, or abstract one. It is the body in motion that contextualizes the work, but it is the carnal predatory nature of the camera that enlivens the dance as it plays out on screen.
The philosopher Merleau-Ponty suggests that an action of the body has at least two outcomes.
The dancing body becomes known (to those who experience the body in motion) visually (or tactilely) as simultaneously it becomes known to itself. The act of moving in space has the outcome of transmitting information both outward and inward at the same instant. What an audience perceives as it witnesses the dancer dance is a kind of performative, autobiographical writing; writing in real, spatial, dimensional time. The audience perceives movement (dance) as the body gains insight into itself, all the while inscribing its narrative in an ephemeral social space. Creating a film form that ephemeral body-writing is a way of not only extending the metaphors of dancing bories, but also of producing an infintely viewable cultural artifact.
Another relevant metaphor can be found in the writing of dance critic John Martin. Martin has used the term "metakinesis" to describe the situation in which the viewer is drawn into the dance. He writes: "Because of the inherent contagion of bodily movement, which makes the onlooker feel sympathetically in his own musculature, the dancer is able to convey throught movement the most intangible emotional experience." Much has been written about the way in which we, the viewers, have a kind of sympathetic response to live dancing bodies. However, little has been written about how that sympathetic, kinesthetic sensation is translated to the screen. This is the challenge one must undertake when considering the creation of a screendance. This challenge is also to the viewer, who must forego preconceived ideas about dance in order to fully critique a screendance. More importantly, though, it is the challenge to the director of a screen dance to grasp Merlou-Ponty's "kinaesthetic sensation" and Martin's "metakinesis" and both migrate and translate those concepts to the frame.
I noted earlier that ADF's Dancing for the Camera is a "director's festival." While each jury defines its own particular esthetic, it is the tradition of this festival to look for work that extends the metaphors of dance into a new filmic space. In that transition from "live" to screen, the jury looks for work thet redefines and questions the language of dance while also interrogating the nature of the moving image and its relationship to dance. In short, the jury looks for that ineffable gestalt in which the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts are also transformed in the process. In the production of media, it is the director whose eye defines what we see. And while screendance is a collaborative art, there is one privilege point of view in the making of a film. It is trough the camera's lens that the meta-dance is built shot by shot, frame by frame. This method of construction is further articulated in the editing process. However, the accretion of danced moments as they are uneartherd and cataloged, archived and arranged, is the territory of the director. And while the choreographer and director may be one and the same, a set of outside eyes, an alternative esthetic, and a pre-existing relationship with the medium of film or video can often unearth something nascent or germinal in the dance. So, in 2005, as ADF's Dancing for the Camera marks its 10th year of screenings, we wish to honor (along with the choreographers) the directors of all of the films screened in the last decade.