A Little History of Screendance

Curated by Stefanie Miller

"Screendance" designed and printed by Meredith Stern

“Screendance” designed and printed by Meredith Stern

Screendance is a hybrid art form that produces choreography through the enmeshment of moving bodies and moving image technologies. Thanks to early cinema’s fascination with capturing danced movement on film—Thomas Edison’s attention to the skirt dances of Ruth St-Denis and Annabelle Whitford, the Lumière brothers’ interest in Loie Fuller, or Georges Méliès’ use of corps dancers in The Magic Lantern—the history of screendance is as old as the history of cinema itself. This program offers a genealogical slice of choreography for the camera, from Lumière to Maya Deren to Clara Van Gool’s lengthy featurette Coup de Grace and beyond.

FEATURING: Sara Kathryn Arledge, INTROSPECTION; Maya Deren, A STUDY IN CHOREOGRAPHY FOR CAMERA; Yvonne Rainer, TRIO FILM; Babette Mangolte, WATER MOTOR; Thierry de Mey, DOM SVOBODE; Clara Van Gool, COUP DE GRACE; Kyle Abraham & Carrie Schneider, I AM SOLD; + more TBA

TRT: approx. 75 mins

Sara Kathryn Arledge, Introspection, 1941, 7 min, color/sound, 16mm
INTROSPECTION was begun in 1941 and was the first abstract dance film made in the United States. Along with Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography for Camera, also made in the mid-‘40s, Arledge’s film pioneered the genre that came to be known as ‘cine-dance’” (Canyon Cinema). “Disembodied parts of dancers are seen moving freely in black space … [they] form a moving and rhythmic three dimensional design of semi-abstract shapes” (Lewis Jacobs).

Maya Deren, A Study in Choreography for Camera, 1945, 3 min, b&w/silent, 16mm
“Maya Deren’s Study in Choreography for Camera provides a glimpse of 1940s modern dance, indeed a very historical glimpse of Talley Beatty in his dancing prime. This very short film also focuses so unrelentingly on dance that it introduces the notion of choreography as a cinematic operation… Beatty’s choreography is not ‘for’ the camera in the sense that it addresses the camera or adapts itself to the camera’s potentials but rather ‘of’ the camera, in that much of his dance is synthetically derived by editing and by a fluid construction of space that itself vies with the dancer for dancerly qualities. In Study, it is very unclear who or what is choreographing and who or what is dancing” (Mark Franko).

Yvonne Rainer, Trio Film, 1968, 13 min, b&w/silent, 16mm on DVD
“Two nudes, a man and a woman, interact with each other and a large balloon in a white living room. Performed by Steve Paxton and Becky Arnold. Camerawork by Phill Niblock” (Video Data Bank).

Babette Mangolte, Water Motor, 1978, 7 min, b&w/silent, 16mm
“The image fades in. For two seconds Trisha [Brown] is there standing motionless, then she starts to dance her solo WATER MOTOR, indeed moving as quickly as water. The movements are so fast and intricate that you feel you are missing half of it. When the dance is finished Trisha is standing motionless as in the beginning but closer to the camera and the image fades to black. The image fades in again on Trisha doing the same dance, but this time in slow motion (shot at 48 frames per second) and the movement takes on a luscious quality that informs the viewer of what was missed before” (BM).

Thierry de May, Dom Svobode, 2000, 6 min, color/sound, Blu-ray
“This film is a true technical feat since the dancers (and camera) defy the laws of gravity by moving along the sheer cliff face thanks to a rigging system holding them by the waist. The choreography turns the spectator’s points of reference upside down, supported in this vertiginous enterprise by the choice of viewpoints. But very quickly, the rapid editing leaves the acrobatic performance and attaches itself to the movements of a choreography as rigorous as it is inventive” (Charleroi Danses).

Clara Van Gool, Coup de Grace, 2011, 26 min, color/sound, DVD
“Coup de Grace is a film about the collapse of a friendship, about what is broken and what cannot break. After a long separation two men meet again in a massive building at a remote location. In the course of the evening and an icy night, they fight a weaponless, exhausting duel. Adaptation of the dance performance Ölelés by Jordi Cortés Molina and Damian Muñoz” (CVG).

Kyle Abraham & Carrie Schneider, I am Sold, 2014, 4 min, color/sound, digital video
“American choreographer Kyle Abraham, and photographer and filmmaker Carrie Schneider collaborate on Dance Response Project inspired in part by James Blake’s recent album, Overgrown. The duo will release several dance shorts over the course of a year, using Blake’s album, Kanye West’s recent Yeezus LP, among others” (KA).

**This program is funded in part by a grant from the Creative Arts Council at Brown University.