Curated by Harkness Dance Center, 92nd St Y, New York City
As part of this year’s annual Mobile Dance Film Festival, the Harkness Dance Center at New York’s 92nd St Y introduced a special ‘Quarantine Screen’ category of 13 films made during COVID-19 lockdowns. All featuring artists socially distanced, sometimes on opposite sides of the world, they come in every shape and size. Every mood is there too. There are fun ones that make you smile, ones that are wistful as they look back on a time past, and ones that reflect all too poignantly the place dance and dancers presently find themselves.
The opening Dancing is an Old Friend is a window on friendship and the importance of connecting in these times, even if it is only virtually. We meet Leah Barsky, Jenny Tortorello Walker, and Marta Renzi (also responsible for the super directing and editing). One still dances professionally, one only for pleasure, one has moved on but is still in dance.
Initially, they talk about lockdown, the profession, retirement and missing (and not missing), class. It is a while before we see Barsky and Walker dancing, but by the time they do, you feel you really know them. There are some lovely moments as their dance transcends time and distance, notably especially when film of duet in performance past is mixed with home recreation present. It is a little wistful, but also has an optimistic air, a feeling that, ‘we are going to be OK’.
It’s a while before the dance starts in Intermission by musician Perdurabo (Davide Arneodo) too. In the opening monologue, he explains that when music makers are in the same room, they react to each other in real time, in constant time. When you are in different rooms, you can record and produce, but it’s not the same thing. Dancers know exactly what he’s getting at, even for class. The title, he says, reflects the exact feeling he had inside, that this was a break, a division between the music we make and people themselves.
When the dance comes, Liu Xiao-yi is quite simply fabulous. Limbs bend and stretch juicily against a white wall, but what really grabs in the fluidity and detail in her fingers. The use of black and white works a treat. The inversion, momentarily making it appear like a negative, is effective too.
Liu, Perdurabo and fellow musician-composer Shramm (Jörg Wähner) may be physically in France, Italy and Germany, but the overlaying of screens draws them digitally into the same space and creates a strong connection. It’s a rare film where the technology, editing, music and dance come together so perfectly as equals. Perdurabo describes Intermission as “crazily beautiful.” He’s spot on!
Rather lighter, Don’t Rush Feat. A Few of the Black Men of the Concert Dance World is bound to bring a smile to the face. Created and cast by Maxfield Haynes and Brandon Gray, the five-minute film sees 25 black male dancers from top companies around the world take on the #DontRushChallenge (in which a group of friends transform themselves in an instant while cooped up at home. Originally done with the swipe of a makeup brush over the camera, here the men use a ballet shoe apparently tossed from one to the next.
Among the impressive line-up are Calvin Royal III (American Ballet Theatre), Joseph Sissens (The Royal Ballet), Harper Watters (Houston Ballet), Dani Durrett (Boston Ballet), Ruan Galdino (Joburg Ballet) and Leroy Mokgatle (Béjart Ballet Lausanne). As the film switches from one apartment to the next, the dancing moves from virtuosic, to silly (a great moment from Boysie Dikobie of the Trocks) to downright groovy. Great fun!
Absence by Diego Funes may be only 95 seconds, but certainly has a lot to say. To text by Funes, it questions what absence really is; what it means. The dance features Louisa Pancoast contemplating the absence of a loved one. As we slip into her mind and the film changes to black and white. It’s hard not to make personal connections with the theme as her body demands the physicality of simply being held, even just being touched, even just being with someone, all pleasures denied to so many by social distancing. It ends with nothing changed, nothing resolved. She still seeks a way out, as we all do.
Also looking at lockdown, Where We Are by Royal Ballet principal Alexander Campbell and Anthoula Syndica-Drummond explores its impact on five top performers. Made around three months into the UK’s lockdown and running just a few seconds under three minutes, it very much projects the truth of the situation then.
Beautifully produced and with choreography by Rambert’s Hannah Rudd, who also appears, we see Jeffrey Cirio, Francesca Hayward, Clemmie Sveaas and Campbell himself trying to come to terms with the anguish and confusion felt. At one point, Cirio says, “I’m so hopeful,” but you sense he doesn’t really believe. As they all look lost for words, it ends with Hayward uttering “I’m so…” as the cast wander off.
There’s more distancing in the closing To Connect by Vashti Goracke and Rozmova Films. The video presents Chelsea M Davis in Taipei, Nana Nakajima in Tokyo, Megan Aizpuro in Seoul and Goracke herself in Minneapolis. It has moments of lightness but I couldn’t help feel that underlying it all is a sense of wistfulness. While the foursome may have connection through music and dance, and may be brought together in one sense by their mobile phones, in another sense that same technology just emphasises distance and being apart.
Small Jumps by DanielRose Projects is near seven minutes of just that. As the dancers jump, we hear encouragement of a kind: “keep jumping,” “don’t forget the up,” “don’t forget the down,” “keep going,” and more. Like the situation we are in, it feels unremitting and never-ending although they do eventually stop and find their ‘way out’.
The remaining pieces featured many of the now familiar dance film features. PAUSE by Charly Wenzel gets off to a great start with its moody background of a big sky and leafless tree, soon followed by a mist shrouded pier and a close-up of itching to move bare feet. Sadly that enigmatic feel then dissipates completely as it rushes through 26 dancers in different backgrounds in just five minutes. Like a few others, while it showed a collection of friends, it didn’t really say anything other than ‘here we are’.
Of course, the film-makers in the Quarantine Screen Selection faced rather more issues than those in the regular festival, where the films were made pre-pandemic. But, as several showed, those issues could be overcome; and when Quarantine Screen Selection is good, it is very, very good indeed.
Click here for David Mead’s look at the films in the three other Mobile Dance Film Festival programmes.
Viewing access to the Quarantine Screen Selection, three regular festival programmes, and ‘Bent But Not Broken’, a documentary and discussion about mobile dance film making, is available to August 31, 2020. Visit www.92y.org for details.