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Bringing Movement Artists’ Films Onto the RADAR

From Vancouver, B.C., to Detroit to San Francisco, filmmaker/curator Adam Sekuler and choreographer Shannon Stewart brought together movement-based films in RADAR: Exchanges in Dance Film Frequencies, at the Northwest Film Forum last Sunday, July 19. The eleven pieces of film were carefully threaded together as a canvas, highlighting how a sample of artists have been using film to make a sociopolitical statement, tell a story through movement, or simply to gather new information from improvisation for a new work. Playing with continuity, frame speed, and flattened imagery, RADAR, as a whole, was an inspiring peephole into the many ways film and movement can work together.

Film still from Inheritor Recordings by 605 Collective (Vancouver B.C.)
Photo courtesy of Northwest Film Forum 

The overgrown grasses of Detroit, featured in both Siza Study by Biba Bell and Time I Change by Oren Goldenberg and Haleem Rasul, depicted a desolate city where nature has reclaimed its space—sharing it with humans, rather than the other way around. Siza Study focused on this abandoned city aspect with a dancer who lowered herself slowly into the splits until the grass absorbed her completely. Time I Change highlighted the various cultural depictions of a black man in the United States with great finesse. Walking in the same direction, a young black man portrayed the drunk, the handsome, and the criminal man as the film flashed through him wearing different clothes at different times of day. The changes made it dishearteningly evident how this same man could be judged depending on whether he walked with a swagger or flailing torso, wore a hoodie or was bare chested, and if it was afternoon or evening. The film brings up an important question: how can we allow ourselves to put so much stock in movement and clothes when it comes to our perception of people, specifically people of color?


Continuing with the concept of socially constructed roles, Supply and Demand by Brendan Behan (San Francisco/Urbana) detailed the military man. A series of quickly changing frames showed silhouetted, flattened, headless men holding automatic drills; they emerged one after another out of thin air as if being mass produced. The effect was that of 2-dimensional characters moving sharply between typical army men poses in a 3D environment, adding a production line mentality to the way men acquire their stereotypical gender roles. Silhouetted people were also spotlighted in Sekuler (Boulder) and Rosely Conz’s (Seattle) Line Is A Curve That Cannot Dream. Suspended above ground and framed by a window, two dancers’ contours carved the space around them. Their fingers and toes sculpted the air as if it were made of something more liquid than gas, and the flowing movements were a remarkable contrast to the sharp lines of the shadowed trees behind them. Transitions between frames were similar to that of an old projector with slides, at one point fluxing into the negative film version of itself. The piece served as a nice reminder of the distinct beauty of semi-static nature and the human body’s variation in its continuous articulated dance.


In another evocation of those quintessential, expansive Midwestern fields, Stewart (Seattle/Urbana) experimented with three films incorporated throughout the program (although, interestingly, she shot the film not in the American Midwest, but in Berlin). Little did the audience know that her witty titles, One Dance For Four, Another Dance For Four, and Third Dance For Four, were referring to a huge road sign with the number 4 planted in a field. Stewart’s impromptu dances played with depth and the lens angle as she moved in and out of frame. Her charismatic flirtiness, and seemingly inconspicuous glances were reminiscent of a first date, with the four sign as her stationary partner. Her improvisation was a refreshing glimpse into a choreographer’s creative process.


Inheritor Recordings by 605 Collective (Vancouver B.C.) was the most traditional dance-for-film choreography of the evening. A mob of sixteen dancers clad in 1930s work wear engulfed the historic BC Sugar Refinery with their athletic and reverberating energy. Playing with speed and rewinding parts of the film made the dancers’ exquisite spinal spiraling, bouncing, and unfoldings feel palpable. While fast forwarding a group of dancers encircling an individual in slow motion, the camera focused on the segmented movement of the individual’s shoulders, elbows and knees as they shifted sharply with precision. These occasional snapshots of the juxtaposition between the movement speed of an encircling mob and a dancer in the center suggested a time lapse of cars rushing around a statue, except this particular heart of the hub was alive as well. The mob told a story of the inherited roots from this historic decade and brought to light how spaces around us preserve memories from the past.


Other pieces in the program included Missa Kes’ (Minneapolis) Diary Week 33 Unaltered; Patrizia Herminjard & Dolo McComb’s (Colorado Springs/Minneapolis) Madam & Evening: a hundred moments; and Kelly Sears (LA/Boulder) Body Besieged. The variety of voices in this line up was reinvigorating, and it promises many more creative works to come. Hopefully Sekuler and Stewart continue to provide this platform of local, national, and international exchange for artists working in this media.


For information regarding RADAR, visit Shannon Stewart’s website.