30 years ago I started working for Dance Films Association (DFA), writing their newsletter. I had gone to Susan Braun, the founder of DFA seeking a fiscal sponsorship for a cross-cultural documentary on Argentine Tango. She granted me the fiscal umbrella but also recruited me to do her bi-monthly publication. At the time, I was working for the Organization of American States (OAS) for the music department headed by Efraín Paesky, a pianist who had left Argentina because of political differences.
That same year, Carlos Saura's BLOOD WEDDING was released. I was awe-struck by the collaboration of director Carlos Saura and choreographer/performer Antonio Gades, the clarity of the story, relationships, and the number of emotions it triggered in me. That one film determined the course of my life, which has been largely dedicated to dance on camera and flamenco ever since.30 years later, DFA has the honor of offering the U.S. premiere of Saura's latest film FLAMENCO FLAMENCO in Dance on Camera Festival 2011. Essentially a performance film, Saura does not attempt to follow a dramatic or thematic thread but simply weave the camera around free standing blow-ups of 20th century paintings and posters of flamenco and, then after the performance, pull back slowly from his talent, the best that Spain has produced in the last 30 years- Paco da Lucia, Estrella Morente, Manolo Sanlucar, Rocio Molina, Eva La Yerbabuena, among others. All of these artists have created their own distinctive style and formidable technique but none aspires to the narrative thrust of Gades nor emotional engagement. Their ideas rush out with the speed of the Internet age, not with the crawl of the once isolated Andalucia. Perhaps these artists might do a dance for the camera, but it doesn't appear that Carlos Saura considered that option.
Besides provoking musings on old and new Spain, Dance on Camera Festival 2011 should stoke your wander lust. THE LAST TIGHTROPE DANCER IN ARMENIA is an ode to a dying tradition, a magnificent country. The Armenian directors Inna Sahakyan, Arman Yeritsyan realized that their children might not be able to experience tightrope dancing as the last two masters of the art, rivals in their day, are not convinced their only student will carry the torch. Their film is a documentary, but it might as well be a short story or a tear-jerking aria.
If neither Spain or Armenia pull at your heart strings, or purse strings, then the festival also offers visual, cultural feasts from Switzerland, Brazil, Congo, England, Ethiopia, and Scotland. I am tempted to go off to Brazil, as taunted by the African inspired costumes worn in the beauty contest portrayed in EBONY GODDESS, from Bahia. How sad that the beauty of black women is sorely overlooked in that vast country. Hard to fathom as surrounded as we are by black celebrities in this country.
PASSION - LAST STOP KINSHASA reminds one of how much a mind twist travel can be. Alain Platel became enthralled with Johann Sebastian Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion," with the concept that a prolific composer could tackle the magnitude of suffering and angst of Jesus on the Cross. For Platel, this seems to be an intellectual puzzle, an image to explore, but for the African singers involved in his production and his African audiences, devout Christians, it seems to be deeply personal. Joerg Jeshel & Brigitte Kramer, the directors who brought us URBAN BALLET last year, do a stellar job of photo journalism, making us a feel a member of the troupe far from the familiar.
ALL THE LADIES SAY created over the last four years by the Bronx B Girl Queen Rokafella and her dancing husband/mentor Kwikstep, take us beyond the known male hip hop camp. They showcase the ladies who twirl on their necks with the greatest of ease: break-dancers, Vendetta, Severe, Lady Champ, Aiko Shirakawa, Baby Love. If that doesn't make you feel lazy, I don't know what will.
Another personal favorite is Morleigh Steinberg's UNSUNG set in an Irish Pub. Somehow you can feel the drizzle outside and the intimacy of a simple bar where the regulars feel free to sing and dance in the Irish traditions, both gay and aggrieved, and move singularly as prompted by their true mood.
DFA member Dagmar Spain alerted us from her post in Prague where she is studying film about BÖDÄLÄ – Dance The Rhythm, a 78 minute documentary by Gitta Gsell. Bodala is a Swiss rhythm tradition, unknownst probably to many. Switzerland seems safe and merry, a land where its dance practitioners take various traditional dance forms and re-imagine and re-invent them to suit their desires.
Besides the 10 programs at the Walter Reade Theatre, Baryshnikov Arts Center is hosting our retrospective of the wildly imaginative, soulful Billy Cowie. Don't miss this! I have been trying to find a NYC home for his 3d, 4 screen MEN IN THE WALL for more years than I'd like to confess.
The Big Screen Project offers DFA a chance to waltz into the arena of public art. Experiencing art by chance, free to anyone who happens to walk west from 6th Avenue on 29th and 30th street, to look up from their drink at Bar Basque or Foodparc, their private salon in the Eventi Hotel, Big Screen Project is a big bold experiment of throwing a wild array of video art and performance to the winds. Who feels it, acknowledges it, celebrates is yet to be known.