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SIFF Puts Dance on the Silver Screen

Still from Improvement Club directed by Dayna Hanson

Seattle International Film Festival always offers an eclectic mix of subject matter for the intrepid movie-goer. This year, amidst the over four hundred films the festival will present, dance makes a prominent appearance. Several diverse films train their lens on many different aspects of the dance world ranging from a budding romance in a modern dance company during the height of the AIDS epidemic, to a crowd-pleasing story of juvenile delinquents entering an Indian dance competition. One sure to garner local buzz is Improvement Club, directed by Seattle choreographer Dayna Hanson. Featuring well-known Seattle dancers and loosely based on Hanson’s 2010 performance Gloria’s Cause, Improvement Club, is part narrative, mockumentary, musical, and dance film. To help narrow down the selection SeattleDances has compiled a complete guide of SIFF’s dance-centered films. SIFF runs through June 9, 2013 and complete information about the festival can be found at

Still from Kalpana directed by Uday Shankar
Monday, May 27, 2:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
One of the treasures of Indian cinema, this 1948 masterpiece returns to movie screens newly restored by the World Cinema Foundation. The only film made by the legendary dancer and choreographer Uday Shankar (older brother of the late musician, Ravi), Kalpana sets up its dazzling blend of reality and imagination from the start, as a screenwriter attempts to interest a film producer in his project. The described story, roughly following Shankar’s own struggles to found an academy, is envisioned as a dance; more than 80 whirl through the film, from narrative interludes to nightmarish fantasy sequences. Though this was the first film from the country to feature a dancer as its protagonist, don’t expect just another diverting spectacle in the Bollywood tradition that followed. Made at a time that Shankar’s own professional fortunes were ebbing, Kalpana emerges as a stirring call for artists to operate free from commercial constraints, and its inventive mix of fiction, autobiography, surrealism, and dance is one-of-a-kind, as unique today as it was sixty-five years ago. More information and tickets available here.

Aayna Ka Bayna
Tuesday, May 28, 8:30 PM, Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center
Wednesday, June 5, 9:30 PM, Egyptian Theater
Friday, June 7, 6:00 PM, Kirkland Performance Center
Aayna Ka Baynafollows the story of nine young men who are housed in the Yashwant Juvenile Detention Center overseen by the brutal Warden Sathe (Sachin Khedekar). The warden believes that harsh discipline is the way to turn these boys’ lives around, while dance teacher Shivani (Amruta Khanvilkar) has a softer approach. The boys escape in an effort to compete in a national dance competition, but first they must evade the police. Bright cheerful dance numbers combine with a gritty depiction of the tough situations that led to the incarcerations for a uniquely Indian musical. Innovative choreography makes good use of diverse backgrounds and often emphasizes a percussive element that makes this a treat to listen to and to watch. More information and tickets available here.

Improvement Club
Tuesday, June 4, 7:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Wednesday, June 5, 4:30 PM, Harvard Exit
Improvement Club offers the fictionalized back-story of a real theatrical work: Dayna Hanson’s Gloria’s Cause, a satirical fantasia on the founding of America that played to Seattle audiences in 2010. The snippets of the production on display suggest what is sure to be a lively night at the theater; but the real focus here is behind-the-scenes, with Hanson and her collaborators playing themselves (or, more likely, slyly sideways variations on themselves) as everything that could go wrong during the shaping of a stage piece does. A crucial New York performance is cancelled; late changes to the scenario, such as George Washington showing up on Jerry Springer, sit less than well with some members of the troupe; and the actress playing the bald eagle (Peggy Piacenza) can’t decide which underwear to wear beneath her bird mask. The film’s warm humor and intimacy find their perfect aural complement in the bright score from Hanson’s band Today!. More info and tickets available here.

Still from Test, directed by Chris Mason Johnson
Friday, June 7, 7:00 PM, Harvard Exit
Sunday, June 9, 1:30 PM, Harvard Exit
Set in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, this film is poignant, character-driven, and illuminated with stunning modern dance. Frankie is a perpetual understudy in a modern dance company, and his relationship to dance and music informs our own understanding of the fear and uncertainty that was being gay in 1985. Headlines ask if there should be a gay quarantine. Dancers won’t touch each other—because what if you can get the virus through sweat? Test perfectly captures the historical context of a time that’s hard to contextualize even just 25 years later—condoms were a relatively unknown novelty, and homophobia was rampant. Writer-director Chris Mason Johnson manages to highlight elements of fear and uncertainty in a way that maintains the truth of the time, but also is understandable to a modern audience, particularly through the dancing of the main characters. More information and tickets available here.