Lifting movement past the normal: Dance film night from Indy Dance Council

One of my favorite quirky websites on the Internet must be rendered on a family blog as Composers Doing Normal Stuff  because of its vast, varied collection of candid photos putting creators of musical sublimity and ultimate craft into connection with the common activities of those of us less gifted. 

A recent visit, for instance, presented to me shots of Benjamin Britten as a curly-headed youngster playing with a toy boat in the sand, shirtless Duke Ellington eating several ice-cream pints in bed, Krzysztof Penderecki carrying a small, withered uprooted tree over his shoulder, and Vincent Persichetti dragging a freshly cut one behind him on the way to Christmas.

One of the joys of contemporary dance is the way it turns normal activities and movement  to dance purposes, such that the line between "normal" and artistic purposes is imaginatively and indelibly crossed. The extra techniques available with film technology allow dance expression to become even more polyglot: There are so many ways to say new things about movement in the art form originally known as "moving pictures." 

Eight such films  by Hoosier dance artists gifted in conceptual and collaborative spheres were presented

Mariel Greenlee-Lungu

by the Indy Dance Council Tuesday night at Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie. Dance Council founder Mariel Greenlee introduced the program. Much of it could carry the title Dancers Doing Normal Stuff, though my caveat is that these films capture plenty of advanced dancing in which the connection to common normality is oblique. I wish I could write about all of them in detail, but that would require a seasoned movie critic. 

The "normal stuff" included human interaction that's often sublimated through dance. When movie cameras are brought into play, the results can take place expansively, away from studio or stage. The new environment can be treated almost as a supporting player and the camera as a choreographer. 

An otherwise-intended, firm setting can throw into high relief the dancing. An abandoned limestone mill in Bloomington gives massive uniqueness to what the dancers have to do and solidity off which they launch themselves in Elizabeth Shea's "Breath / Light /Stone."  Mass entertainment has accustomed moviegoers to unconventional settings, despite an unavoidable staged quality in Golden Age Hollywood: A blithe imaginative leap is needed to place Gene Kelly actually singin' in the rain. There was a better simulation of actual rain shown Tuesday in Sarah Farnsley's heart-drenching "Absolution."

Because dance is inherently less abstract than music, when dancers do normal stuff, it can't help being enhanced and blended with the special skills and training they bring to bear. We all move, and often we are inarticulate, dull or routine in how we do it. But when choreographed and executed deftly, even our wishful thinking can lend itself to movement, both symbolically recalled and nostalgically imagined, as in Ramon Flowers' "Dreaming of You(th)."

I was especially charmed by a scene in "Dancing Man," a winning contribution in dance terms to the rom-com genre by Robert Steven Mack, producer and romantic lead. His character is a young dancer promised a career advancement that would take him away from a new love interest he's pursued awkwardly. That scene shows the young man hurrying up and down a parking-garage staircase, hesitating, then reversing course before racing to prolong a goodbye scene he had just interrupted with the young woman. 

The scene is shot straight-on from a distance on one of the open decks, so the pacing of his advances and retreats, his pauses and resumed rushing all carry the purposeful design of dance while retaining the stamp of spontaneity. I doubt that a non-dancing physically fit actor similarly assigned could have put across the scene's symphonic balance of tension and release with the same comic grace. It's an amusing back-and-forth plea for sympathy that's extended just enough. It's almost Chaplinesque, a dancer doing normal stuff (in this case, barely mastering a regrettable degree of shyness).

I was reminded of another instance, long ago available on my social media, of a dancer doing normal stuff with a dancer's suppleness. A Dance Kaleidoscope member at the time named Missy Trulock posted a short video showing her loading her arms with two full bags of groceries out of a raised hatchback trunk, then flicking the door down into place with a head-high leg lift. 

Composers, eat your hearts out!


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