Dance has always been a physical, not a virtual, art — bodies moving in real places for people watching in real time. But technology is starting to change that. With easy-to-use video cameras and editing software as close as the phones in their pockets, dancers, choreographers and visual artists are re-imagining what dance can be, and where — and how — we see it.
Some of the possibilities will be on display this week in the first ScreenDance Miami festival, which offers a host of sometimes startling visions of what dance can look like when it moves off the stage and into the virtual realm. Produced by Tigertail Productions, the festival presents screenings, talks and workshops Thursday through Sunday at the Miami Beach Cinematheque and the Inkub8 studio in Wynwood.
Although the opening and closing nights feature films by New Yorker Gabri Christa, the nearly two dozen other films are by Miami artists.
“Miami is a very young city, and it doesn’t have a huge built-up body of choreographers,” says Tigertail director Mary Luft, a veteran presenter of the avant-garde. “So you have young people striking out on their own projects. One person sees something and they want to do it, too, and they have their own ideas — and there’s technology and editing software that’s easy to use, so it moves along pretty quickly. It’s fun and it’s a new adventure.”
“It’s not just in Miami but everywhere,” says Marissa Alma Nick, 28, a dancer, choreographer and aspiring filmmaker who is directing the festival for Tigertail. A New World School of the Arts graduate, Nick became caught up in film making when she returned to Miami in 2011 after working as a commercial dancer in Los Angeles. “I started experimenting with the camera when I found out what everyone else is doing,” she says.
A number of festival films highlight Miami places and character. “It doesn’t cost much to make a film with so many open spaces and urban landscapes here,” Nick says.
Choreographer Danielle Kipnis and filmmaker Bruce Pinchbeck’s No Trespassing shows Kipnis and fellow dancer Katie Wiegman in the decrepit, magnificently graffitied Miami Marine Stadium, which was used for guerilla film shoots and artist parties. Weigman’s own Ascend shows her moving in slow, hypnotic fashion while contemplating a sunset from a perch in Biscayne Bay.
The close-knit nature of Miami’s young creative community encouraged choreographers to team up with visual artists or filmmakers, Nick says.
Carlota Pradera worked with her visual-artist husband, Glexis Novoa, on Borrowed Space, which shows Pradera moving in the eerily empty house where she lived for a decade.
For Nick’s own film, Weight-ing, portraying a kind of love story between Nick and break dancer Phantom, she worked with painter Jose Felix Perez, who acted as director-photographer, as well as two local composers.
Other films are by visual artists whose ideas about movement, or people’s bodies, intrigued Nick. “They have a very profound perspective on the body,” she says.
They include Juan Carlos Zaldivar’s Shift, which shows a humanoid figure moving via the nearly century-old animation technique of claymation, and Antonia Wright’s Drinks on Me, in which a man and woman gambol in a tiny, enclosed space covered with shifting graphics.
“Whatever your theme or narrative, if it’s expressed mostly through physical action and not through dialogue or even sounds,” Nick says she considered it a dance film.
Some choreographers ventured into highly technical territory. Yara Travieso, a graduate of New World and New York’s Juilliard Conservatory, gave up on being a dancer to focus on film making. Her Laid in Earth is the only work in the festival that uses computer graphics, a painstaking process that requires a high level of computer skill.
Guest artist Christa, who has danced with choreographer Bill T. Jones and become known as a pioneer in dance film, uses a camera strapped to her head or elsewhere on her body so that it moves, too, as it captures moving bodies.
Some of the pieces in ScreenDance were made by people who took production and editing workshops Tigertail hosted last summer. The festival will offer sessions in composition for the camera, sharing video over the Internet and other topics this weekend.
“Choreographers are getting more confident and want to do more,” Nick says.