When our most illustrious local modern-dance outfit, 33 Fainting Spells, broke up earlier this year, they took the New Dance Cinema series down with them. Besides being the foremost proponents of dance cinema in Seattle (responsible for the gorgeous Measure, among other short films), 33 Fainting Spells' Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson also used to program the biennial festival.
I was starting to miss dance shorts. They don't pair naturally with most feature films, or slot easily into short-film programs (the 1 Reel Film Festival was programmed by SIFF this year, so Bumbershoot's only dance-y program, featuring Gaelen Hanson's solid Your Lights Are Out or Burning Badly, already screened in town this spring). But local dance groups are still making movies, and you can find much of their work on IndieFlix, a DVD vanity press and internet-based distributor. Under the mysterious "Art Film" category, you can buy $2.95 videos from 33 Fainting Spells, Corrie Befort, Maureen Whiting, and—soon, I'm told—a delightful little DVD by locust.
What's the use of a DVD-pressing middleman in the era of YouTube? At this point, the answer is still quality. DVDs look way better, and that's important in an aesthetic object—or so you would think. Some of these offerings are more like glorified audition tapes, or a work sample for a granting organization—like Tonya Lockyer's Headliner, made while in residency at ACT Theatre. With its stationary camera, poor sound, and facile backdrop of crumbly brick and a window, it's pretty much a stage performance recorded on film. It certainly doesn't indicate any of the possibilities inherent in the hybrid dance/cinema form.
Putting dance on film means you can wipe out incidental sound (like the coordinated breaths that punctuate so much modern-dance performance) or, alternately, heighten it (the up-close scraping rhythms that films by 33 Fainting Spells, including the IndieFlix offering Entry, particularly revel in). Site-specific work becomes possible on a much more ambitious scale—you no longer have to fit an audience into a kitchen with the performers, or convince ticket-buyers to travel long distances. (This has its downside, too: In Whiting's series of Centrum films, the camera lingers dopily on picturesque Fort Worden bunkers, to the detriment of the rather sparse performance.) In addition, dance focuses the viewer on bodies, so it's always at least subtextually sexual. Merge that with the sexually fraught medium of film, and you've got close-ups of delicate wrists and muscular thighs and all sorts of things. (Befort's mid-street soaked-shirt freak-out in Rota is especially upfront about this theme.)
The best dance films on offer at IndieFlix could be more accurately described as experimental narrative films. EBE4, by Dayna Hanson and Linas Philips, is a downright bizarre short featuring lots of pink cotton, kitschy Indian costumes, a vicious sunburn, a Pomeranian, and a seagull painting. (It screened under the title Seagull Picture at New Dance Cinema 2005.) And locust's Convenience, an excerpt from the performance of the same name, is a sloppy breakfast prepared and eaten by a man whose limbs are manipulated by a crew of helpers—or are they forcers? Anyway, it's great, and it will be available on IndieFlix soon.