By GARY FERRINGTON
Dance slithered into film like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Some of the earliest filmmakers turned their cameras on the early 20th century equivalent of twerking. Created by dancer/choreographer Loie Fuller, the Serpentine dance was frequently chosen as a subject by cinematic pioneers like William K. L. Dickson, the Lumière brothers, George Melies, and others as seen in an 1895-1908 Serpentine compilation reel on YouTube.
Screen dance artists ever since have created expressive works using cinematic and dance styles ranging from surreal visual abstractions to strict narratives, using visual composition, lighting, camera movement and editing to create an experience that can exist only on the screen as opposed to the stage. On October 6, Oregonians can see some of today’s screendance creations at the Northwest Screendance Exposition 2015 at Eugene’s Bijou Arts Cinema.
“The logistics and costs of filmmaking in the 20th century naturally limited the production of screendance films,” says Eugene based filmmaker and festival co-founder John Watson. But pioneering filmmakers nevertheless managed to develop the art form. In her mid-1940s films A Study in Choreography for Camera and Ritual in Transfigured Time, Maya Deren later innovated camera and editing techniques to manipulate time, space, and redefine the concepts of movement for film. A generation later, Hilary Harris’s Nine Variations on a dance theme (1966/67) continued to explore the relationship between the moving image and dance.
Today, when the latest iPhone can produce video of quality only available to professionals just a few years ago, screendance is finding its way to screens everywhere. “The proliferation of inexpensive video cameras, simple editing systems, and the increasing number distribution channels such as Vimeo and YouTube led to an explosion of new work in the last 30 years,” explains Watson, who’s starting his eighth year as the marketing specialist and house manager for Lane Community College’s performing arts program.
Last year, Watson was chatting with fellow Eugene filmmaker Dorene Carroll (a graduate of both LCC and the UO’s dance programs who teaches, choreographs and dances in productions around the state) about promoting videos each was making. Both are avid fans and supporters of screendance, and have produced several screendance projects of their own. Noting the strong interest in dance performance and filmmaking in Eugene and the increasing number of screendance festivals around the world like the 20th International Screendance Festival and Screendance Miami 2015, they calculated that such an event would draw a great deal of local interest and participation.
Watson and Carroll invited several well-known artists in the dance and film communities to submit work for an exposition, not competition, event. The program will consist of the 14 selected screendance videos (out of 20 submitted), along with the producer’s videos and videos from at least one of the exposition sponsors. “They are from as close as Eugene, and as far away as Italy,” Watson notes. “Styles range from a poignant comedy piece to ballroom fantasy and on into several interesting pieces built around contemporary dance. Many are narrative, but a couple are very abstract. Set locations range from the Oregon coast to a train station, and the lineup includes a sneak preview of Robert Uehlin’s Near By Far (2014), choreographed by UO Associate Professor of Dance Brad Garner and Mary Fitzgerald with score by George Wiederkehr.
There will be two showings, a matinee at 4:00pm and in the evening at 7:30pm. The artists who collaborated on the selected videos will be part of an audience/artist dialog after the 7:30 event. A complete list of selected filmmakers and their work is on the Exposition’s web site.
The Exposition will be an annual event, Watson wrote in an email. “We are very encouraged by the support we have received from members of the dance community in Eugene, notably the faculty in the Lane Community College Dance Program, DanceAbility International, the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, and the Bijou Art Cinemas, Lane Community College, the University of Oregon, which is now a sponsor. We would not be able to do this without their support. We are hoping to expand the event to include presentations and workshops.”
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.