Dance and film, two mediums existing in time, have had a relationship over the decades. Though dance for the camera has existed since the early Twentieth Century, it was a specialized taste. Mostly dance lovers regularly complained about choreography in movies getting chopped up, space was scrambled and, with bad luck, the camera focused on faces with the exclusion of feet. The 1948 Red Shoes is a notable exception, though perhaps the most exhilarating dance sequences on film are still Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in An American in Paris—its director, Vincent Minnelli, had to fight like hell to keep them in. More recently Gregory Hines and Mikhail Barishnikov’s competing duets in White Nights are probably runners-up. Of course, the Nicholas Brothers and Fred Astaire (who stole many of their ideas) should get some acknowledgement.
But it was the advent of affordable recording equipment, above all video, which brought the two moving mediums into close sync. No longer did we depend only on dance being on film, but got dance created for the camera. It stands now on its own feet. One result of the COVID horror has been that locked-up dancers are learning to choreograph for the camera in efforts to keep their aft alive and, in the process learn to rethink and reshape the body in space.
In the Bay Area Greta Schoenberg started a dance film festival in the late 1990s; in 2010 her pioneering efforts became the multi-phased San Francisco Dance Film Festival (Sun/18-October 25). Schoenberg is still involved in the programming.
The festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, just may help keep those of us deprived of live performances sane for a pleasurable hour or two of digital viewing. The place to be, mostly, is Marquee TV online. The choices, made from the over 400 applications, may get your swimming and your spirit soaring. There are 12 programs and close to 80 individual showcases. All you need is a ticket ($9 per show, $50 for the whole series) and sign up for a log-in number.
The outlier is the “Finding Me” program which takes place at the Catharine Clarke Gallery (248 Utah, SF). It features a number of international shorts which explore the journey that people go through struggling with, finding, and maybe being denied their individual identity.
For the third time this year, “Raising Voices” deserves special attention. Among the ten selections are Joz Boog’s “Am I a Man”, ”Dancing on Antarctica” by Corey Baker and KQED Arts’ ”East Bay Hip Hop Dance.” Other works include “color” dancing—thank you Mr. Van Gogh, performing in wheelchairs and at least one music video.
Six full feature dance film showcase among others “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back,” a rare look at the lives and careers of the Hines brothers. A bonus program includes tapper Jason Samuels Smith with extended clips from the acclaimed film. “Beyond My Steps” offers a look at Angola’s cultural traditions and features a rare look at contemporary Angolan dance. “Revisor”, has Jonathan Young and Crystal Pité—maybe the hottest choreograph today–work on a comedy video of Nicolai Gogol’s “The Inspector.
But the heart of all dance film festivals are the shorts, sometimes only 10 minutes long. I have never been able to figure what it is about this format—tech limitations? storytelling prowess? access to finances?—that has made the Bay Area a hub of short dance films. Dancers/choreographers and filmmakers just may inspire each other more here.
This year, the 20 selections featuring newcomers and experienced makers alike will be seen in two parts. You may have seen some of these dancers on stage (though not together). Jaime Garcia Castilla and James Gilmer collaborate in “Intersection,” Oakland street dancers show off their style (“Turf Nation”), Bianca Cabrera and Kate Mitchell combine for “Golden,” and Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen put forth “Lyra: Surface Down.”
Eight shorts of various length from around the globe give at least an inkling of what is going on in the rest of the world besides home (“Cygnus,” ”She/I,” and “Allow an Easement” are from the USA). Showcased here are “Human Habitat” (Norway), “Men” (Finland), “My Own Worst Enemy” (Netherlands), and “Wake” (United Kingdom).
If you are in for it, “After Dark Shorts” presents an hour’s worth of creepy, crawly and outright weird films from around the world. Want a taste? Korean vogue dancers, hairy hip hop creatures in the City of Lights, Paris, and let’s not forget some steamy versions of romance. After all it’s the movies.
SAN FRANCISCO DANCE FILM FESTIVAL runs mostly online Sun/18-October 25. For more info, visit www.sfdancefilmfest.org