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Inside the dancer, in the heart of the eye

Erin Brannigan

Belinda Cooper, Michael O’Donoghue, In the Heart of the Eye Belinda Cooper, Michael O’Donoghue, In the Heart of the Eye
photo Rachel Roberts
Dance Lumiere 99 was a very different affair to the Dance Lumiere I curated in 98. Moved to a cinema venue—Cinemedia—and spread over 3 days with 5 themed sessions, curator Tracie Mitchell and her team created a stylish dance screen event as part of the Dancehouse Bodyworks season. With a weekend-long film program as part of Perth’s Dancers Are Space Eaters in 1999, an Adelaide dance film screening in November last year, and One Extra Company’s dance screen event scheduled for May this year, substantial attention is turning towards this interdisciplinary form.

Mitchell’s opening night double bill of Revolver, a short British film featuring a very young Liam Neeson, and Milos Forman’s 1979 musical Hair featuring the choreography of Twyla Tharp, was a bold move, but an interesting one that illustrated filmmaker Lawrence Johnstone’s keynote address. Johnstone gave a neat history of dance and film stressing the significance of the musical which too often gets shrugged off like an embarrassing relative. Placing Revolver, a windswept, magical, ‘rondo’ style tale of car problems, a wandering bride and lust beside a highway, against a 70s musical about the 60s that’s as densely worked as a paisley shirt, demonstrated Lawrence’s comments on the diversity of the form. Hair was hysterical—it was great to see it for the first time on film and it warmed up a crowd that appeared to return for other programmes throughout the weekend.

Mitchell chose some very safe, beautiful international work which was a smart move for the festival’s big leap from the $5-a-seat-in-the-studio model, screening works by Laura Taler, Pascal Magnin, Philippe Decouflé and de Keersmaeker; all award-winning dance filmmakers. All have created distinct oeuvres within the form; Taler’s cheeky sentimentalism, Magnin’s cinematic romances, Decouflé’s homages to early cinema, Rosas’ epic masterpieces (De Keersmaeker’s film shown here, Rosa, was directed by Peter Greenaway).

The Australian programme was more of a mixture of low budget, experimental work, well-crafted explorations which had some funding, and glossy packages that had a lot of experience and support behind them. It included work by Christos Linou, Cordelia Beresford, Michelle Heaven, Clair Dyson, Justine Spicer, Morag Brownlie (NZ) and Mitchell herself. Linou’s Fiddle Di Die which I first saw as part of his stage work of the same name is a staccato Super 8 film, the highlight being a series of jumps filmed to create a jerky levitation. Heaven’s collaboration with Jessica Wallace is an interesting first exploration of the film medium for this exquisite performer and the care taken with the resources at hand result in a curious and delicate film. Beresford’s Restoration with choreography and performance by Narelle Benjamin is an amazing graduation short and a good investigation of that awkward place where narrative moves into dance. It’s the type of dance-film performance that has given an international leg-up for companies such as DV8 and La La La Human Steps.

A real thrill was seeing Margie Medlin and Sandra Parker’s collaboration for Danceworks, In the Heart of the Eye. Seen in the same weekend as Dance Lumiere, this work seemed like an exciting jump sideways with its beautifully incorporated film and live work—a rare and remarkable success story. The elegance of the choreography—all fine lines, sharp angles and a lot of beauty—never became cold which I attribute to the ‘dance-cam’ work that placed the audience in the dancer’s head. As the film image on the back wall of screens traces a passage through a classic interior—all wood panelling and stained glass—a dancer in front on the stage marks out the movements that have created the moving image. As she turns abruptly a quick pan occurs. As she swings to and fro in position, in a movement echo, the camera oscillates from side to side. In the Heart of the Eye takes us into a bizarre space between our observations of the dance on stage and the visual experience of the dancer on screen—a heart with no sole (so to speak). Like a strange voyeuristic kinaesthetics, the space or gap at the heart of the relation gives the work a haunted aspect that I found oddly disarming, allowing me to be taken in.

Some black and white footage of the dancers is repeated on the screens like a round (there is usually more than one projection happening at once), the movements falling after each other like ghost-dancers. Other shots were achingly gorgeous, like the falling snow which seemed to freeze/burn into the cinematic image.

Dance Lumiere, curator Tracie Mitchell, Cinemedia at Treasury Theatre, Melbourne, November 18 - 20; In the Heart of the Eye, choreography Sandra Parker, filmmaker/lighting Margie Medlin; Athenaeum II, Melbourne, November 19 - 28, 1999

RealTime issue #35 Feb-March 2000 pg. 33

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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