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Dance on film: Making contact


The Contact Dance Film Festival, a weekend of eclectic international dance films presented by BodyVox, returns for its fourth year this weekend. “Festival” might seem like a bit much to describe a three-night event, but the company has managed to pack an impressively broad selection of independent, dance-centric films into the weekend. Running May 9 to 11, the festival is divided into three programs, each with its own perspective on the intersection between dance and film.

Founded, as the company says, to support and promote new independent dance films, the Contact Dance Festival offers a slate of international films, a feature-length film, and another collection of short films guest-curated by Ohio State University students.

The Dancing Over Borders program features “Unfolding,” a film with work created and performed by Portland’s Muddy Feet contemporary dance collective.

The Dancing Over Borders program, running on both opening and closing nights, is a collection of 11 films from nearly as many countries, including one from Portland. Unfolding, shot in part in a classic Portland bungalow, adds recognizable local flavor to this worldwide survey.  The alternately surreal and playful piece within it is choreographed and danced by the Muddy Feet contemporary dance collective, featuring local mainstays Suzanne Chi, Rachel Slater, Kailee McMurran, and Lena Traenkenschuh.

The longest piece of the night, Les Sirènes—Chant XII, is also one of the standouts. Directed by Philippe Saire, this Swiss film is broadly inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s “transposition” of it in Ulysses. Three women in vibrant but simple outfits stumble and slide gracefully down giant piles of sand, bottles in hand, three sheets to the wind as they embark on a journey from the sand to the water, exploring the environment through improvised but intentional movement.

Festival films hail from all over the world. Pictured here: “Breath, Light, Stone.” Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

T.I.A. (This Is Africa) also finds a striking relationship between dance and environment. Shot with a long lens in bustling areas of Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, the camera tracks Aïpeur Foundou’s fluid, powerful movements from afar, so that the bystanders in the frame encounter this incredible dancer seemingly out of nowhere. Further blurring the line between documentary and dance, Dancing with My Dad is a sweet and often surprising film. British dancer Lizzie J. Klotz recognizes how different her life has been from that of her father, a career policeman, and brings her father into the dance studio to find common ground. He takes to the task of learning the movements and concepts of contemporary dance remarkably well, and the film treats his work, alone and in a duet with his daughter, with respect.

BodyVox co-artistic director Jamey Hampton introduced the films on opening night. His notes on each film, interspersed throughout the program, provided a peek into the festival’s ethos. Because most festivals open to independent dance-minded filmmakers require a submission fee, the BodyVox curators decided to make Contact totally free to attract a broad range of submissions. It worked: they received more than 400 films and watched them all. Noting that they might add a $5 fee next year to tighten up the process a little, Hampton still seemed quite pleased with the results. (This came up in reference to the student film Late Night Stack, a cute, funny short piece that was unmistakably student work, as was an earlier piece that attempted to create an allegory for air pollution through a duet set to generic dubstep, credited to BYU dance students.)

Ohio State University grad students curated the program Dance@30FPS. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

The Dance@30fps program, running May 10 and 11, is, curators say, “a vibrant selection of recent works born of the marriage between dancer and filmmaker.” Curated by graduate students of Mitchell Rose, an Ohio State University Dance Department professor and frequent BodyVox collaborator known for creating dance films, this selection promises to deliver the most of-the-moment shorts, picked by dancers who are just beginning their careers.

The weekend will close with the festival’s one feature film, Dancing7Cities, directed by New Zealander Nicholas Rowe. This 55-minute documentary profiles community dance projects in seven cities around the world, from Helsinki to Ramallah to Beirut, celebrating the projects’ individual missions as well as the common threads that unite them.

The feature-length dance documentary “Dancing7Cities” closes the festival. Photo courtesy of BodyVox.

It’s clear, in part from the student-curated program, that the festival emphasizes access and experimentation. By proudly including emerging dance-world auteurs, BodyVox has positioned Contact more as a launchpad or proving ground than a showcase where award winners take victory laps. Themes of risk and discovery run through this truly broad selection of films from a diverse group of directors. Whatever you’re expecting to see, you’re sure to find some surprises.

Click here for Contact Dance Film Festival schedule and ticket information.

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