Mix­ing dance and film a risky en­deavor

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Christo­pher Blank Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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.

Melissa An­der­son Sweazy

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