Mixing dance and film a risky endeavor
Integrating film or video into a work of dance is an idea rich in possibility that, in practice, rarely exceeds expectations.
For one, it’s trickier than it looks combining projected images with people dancing around the stage. Most times, the videos are relegated to being the backdrop for the live movement.
Another unfortunate byproduct of filmmakers or videographers entering the magical realm of the dance studio for the first time is the inevitable documentary of the “process.” Choreographers get to explain on camera what their dance is about in lieu of leaving notes in the program. Their descriptions rarely increase one’s appreciation for their actual dance and can even obfuscate the work.
Because of this, dance/film collaborations can be technically ungainly and slightly belabored, which is true of the latest production by Project: Motion, running through Sunday at Evergreen Theatre.
In “Frame by Frame: New Dances Inspired by Motion Pictures,” the modern dance troupe presents seven short works by different choreographers, interspersed with documentary video by indie filmmaker Eric B. Swartz.
The most interesting combination of visual and dance elements is in “The Road To…” by Wayne M. Smith. With images from the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike in the background, Smith slowly unrolls a long paper that says “I AM a Man.” At one point, he also aims a small video projector at a garbage can, lending more visual impact to the piece, like a giant collage. The movement itself, however, never gets more provocative than a series of bland theatrical gestures.
Marianne Bell also uses projections in “Better Than One,” a street-style tap routine driven by beatboxer Siphne Sylve that might draw a medium-sized crowd in a New York subway terminal.
In “Capture,” a slo-mo sketch of a dance, choreographer Steven McMahon references the filmmaking process through gestures, including the smacking of arms like a director’s clapperboard.
Other works on the program use movies simply as a point of departure.
Ideas of beauty (with the slightest nod to “The Stepford Wives“) are explored in “Painted, Powdered and Pumped,” a playful dance by Rebecca Rose Cochran and Emily Hefley, who employ a nice selection of bubble gum and western tunes by Lesley Gore, Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith, among others.
Amelia Renee Byrd chose various scores from horror films for “While She Was Sleeping…,” a piece in which the four dancers bear a vague resemblance, movement-wise, to zombies or evil dolls.
Dancer and choreographer Sarah Christine Bolton walks backward in “Let Me Keep This One,” which gets its general theme of memory (and its musical score) from the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Finally, Emily Argyle’s “Divertissement Vers Absurdites” is a cartoonish hodgepodge of harlequin antics to music from the French animated film “The Triplets of Belleville.”
Though the dancers are generally in step and often quite elegant, Project: Motion’s well-intentioned experiment combining film and dance hasn’t quite grown out of its petri dish.