Film and video serve as a natural collaborative medium for dance, highlighting the power of image and motion in both.
Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner are unpretentious dance and film/video artists, considering their many years of dancemaking that has garnered them awards and residencies worldwide.
Their delightful personalities surface through their work which includes film and videos which make the most of slow motion, stop action and layers of multiple exposures to expand on the motion of the human body. They will be in Philly on March 15 to lead a version of their “Dance In Frame” workshop.
How did you as dance performers come to explore film and video?
This question has two answers; the first time we were attracted to using film was back in 1995 and 1996, when we did our live performance of homemade and Antonio Caido. At that point, people like DV 8 and LaLa Human Steps were using video. Antonio Caido use film as a window into the past , and the actions on the film are mundane and do not compete or resemble what is happening on the stage. In homemade there is only one session on this piece we used film (we actually shot in 8 mm film). It was a violent trio where dancers are smashed into walls. We wanted the smashed of the bodies in the wall to be seen from the other side as if the wall was transparent. So we shot the scene through a plexiglass. During the performance, the audience can see the movement happening in unison alive from the front, and from behind the plexiglass in the film. The video provoked an intense visceral dialogue between the bodies smashed on the plexiglass glass intensifying the experience for the audience. But right after this experimentation we moved away from using video in live performance because it became very fashionable, every new Eperformance was mixing video and live performance in ways we thought were unnecessary or superfluous, so we deliberately did not work with video for the next decade.
There was only one situation we did work with video again, for a commission for Woo co in Denmark. The directors wanted to work with a video maker, initially against our will, but eventually, the video became more of a “set” than an extension of a performance. It was extremely successful for the piece.
Only in 2007, when we were creating EXIT – a suicide of the duo known as chameckilerner – that we went back to working with video for conceptual reasons. chameckilerner was supposed to have “disappeared,” we could not be live on stage. So every apparition of Rosane and I are done through vignettes— we are boxing, losing our life script and learning how to fly—happening I though out the piece. Also inspired on our work with Woo co, we use video as a window to a space that is beyond the walls of the theater; two large screens, one on each side of the walls of the theater where the audience is seating. In them, Rosane and I are seated through the entire piece watching the audience watching the piece.
One of the vignettes in EXIT, call Flying Lesson had a life of its own when a producer fired come to see the show and asked us if she could submit the video as a short experimental film to some film festivals. Flying Lesson won the Jury Award at the 36th Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center, the Best Experimental Film at the International Brooklyn festival and was showed in more than twenty international film festivals. In addition, it was broadcasted on Channel 13’s REEL NEW YORK, in the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands.
To go back to your question, we started working again with video because of a conceptual necessity of the piece and after that, we became very interested in what the cinematographic tools could offer us in terms of expanding our investigation of movement, space and the body as a map of oneself.
But we enter the video screen world with ultimate respect for the medium. We are not interested in mimic on video what we can do live. We use video to work ideas that need the medium assistance and could only happen as a video or an installation.
There has been a lot of critique of Ivo Van Hove’s use of video in his new direction of “West Side Story,” in that the gi-normous projections dwarf the actors and dancers on stage. How and when do you think projections should be employed in service of live performances ?
Rosane: I actually liked the use of video in the production of West Side Story. I was not seated in the orchestra, but far away into the balcony. I thought that to make a video that is more agreeable to the people sitting far away is profoundly subversive. But I am not sure that was on purpose.
But as a more generic question, I don’t think there is an answer other than, only use it when necessary for the piece. It might compete with the live-action, but that can be good, sometimes, and part of the reason for using it. We used a lot of video on our live performances, both as a background set with little movement, and purposefully competing with the action on stage.
Most of our pieces with video were made before we all had a screen at our hands 24/7. It is necessary to take that into consideration now.
That is the short answer, for a long conversation.
Andrea: I usually dislike seeing the dancers competing with the videos of themselves dancing on stage. I understand the impulse, you could use the cameras onstage being handheld, giving the viewer what it seems, a more visceral connection to the movement—being a participant on the action— like they do in movies. But what people seem to forget is that in movies the viewers cannot have the real bodies present, so using these visceral camera moves is the only way for the cinematographer to draw the viewer closely and add more intimate to the action. But when you have a sweaty body in front of you, the real thing, why would you choose to look at the intermediary apparatus, the video?
Sometimes, with some exceptions, it can help, like in the case of West Side Story, where the audience is far away, so the dimension of the video can help people feel closer to the action. But for me, the film works best in West Side Story when it opens the wall of the theater into another dimension and not when is trying to help the audience watch the movement.
As Rosane mention before, the answer to why you need to use it needs to be essential to the making of the piece otherwise is just “stuff, extra”, otherwise the video is only there for entertainment or trivial purpose, like a fancy decor. That does not interest me.
What will participating in your workshop “Dance In Frame” be like?
We will discuss ideas of why, how and when bring dance to film. We consider live performance to be such an exciting art form so that we need good reasons to put it inside the frame of a video. And there are good reasons, of course. The big dilemma artists run into when taking Dance out of the real world and into the screen is how to maintain the corporeal and visceral aspect of the experience of feeling a body in action; its sweat, dynamic, and energy. In Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty addresses the physical reality: “To be a body, is to be tied to a certain world….our body is not primarily in space, it is of it.” So how do we keep the flesh, the breath, the space of this body on screen? Or, do we need to maintain those qualities to succeed?
In our experience, the vital question relies on these basic questions: when does one’s concept ask for the language of video making; what are the tools available in the video that would not only facilitate the work but demand that the work be made explicitly for the screen?
To answer these questions one needs to understand that neither media, VIDEO/FILM, or DANCE, are subjugated to the other. The same understanding of Dance, have to extend to Video and Experimental film.
During the workshop, we will show some examples, both of our work and other artists’. We will talk about framing, camera movement, planes, manipulation of time and space, the relationship between camera movement and body movement, etc.
We will suggest simple exercises to be made in small groups. We like simplicity as a starting point because it isn’t about the technique, it is about the idea – it makes it easier to focus, and incites discussion.
We will finish up talking about the result of the exercise, and possibly showing some more examples of video work that we find inspiring. We ask everyone to bring their cell phones to use for the exercises.