Measure
dir. 33 Fainting Spells
Plays Thurs at 6 and 8 pm, Sat at 4 pm;
at the Little Theatre.

The word "measure" is a complicated little package. It means both size and a way of determining size; a unit or degree; a purposive action; a bar of music; a rhythm; a foot of poetry; and (archaic) a dance. Measure, the dance video by 33 Fainting Spells, manages to touch on nearly all of those meanings without strain.

If you follow local dance at all, you'll be tingling with expectation from the very first shot, a close-up of a pair of The Shoes, 33 Fainting Spells' trademark hideous old-lady shoes. My Great-Aunt Lilly wore those exact shoes, with their little Cuban heels, high-laced vamps, and perky egg-end toes.

We see the cream-colored shoes. We see only the ankles of the wearer, who is sitting, legs crossed. The screen goes blank. We see the shoes again; the foot swings, almost impatiently.

The next shot is of a long, narrow corridor, head on, in one-point perspective. Light streams in from the open doorways on both sides. The colors are aquamarine and sunlit gold, with the scabby look of abandoned paint. At the far end is a wall where somebody ripped away a fire alarm. Already we've enjoyed three advantages of dance cinema: close-ups, changes of focus, and location shots.

Dayna Hanson and John Dixon dance this choreography, as they did in September September. (Dayna is the Hanson with the heart-shaped face. Galen, no relation, is the Hanson with the quizzical frown, and she doesn't dance in this piece. Neither does Peggy Piacenza, the shortest one.) It's a duet in which the partners never face each other. For almost the entire dance, Hanson is down the hall behind Dixon, both facing forward. Their movements are largely drawn from soft-shoe, that gentle scuffle-and-slide that calls up long summer afternoons in times gone by. The arms, however, are more expressive than the arms of classic soft-shoe dancers, reaching, pulling in, enfolding. And although the dancers sometimes hold their torsos stiff, in a typical soft-shoe way, they do it selectively, for effect. Their cream-colored outfits aren't, except of course for Hanson's shoes, specifically archaic, but the cut and color again put us in the land of memory. Lacking a clapper, the dancers held up fingers to count takes, and now those shots are used to measure off sections of the dance.

Did I simply miss the element of communication when I saw this duet on the stage, or is it really more pronounced in the cinematic version? I don't know which, but for me the theme of September September was memory, while the theme of Measure is shared memory, a very different thing. John Dixon's mobile face registers intense concentration as he and Hanson stay in sync by force of will--and careful measure. The pleasure of watching two people do the same thing at the same time becomes a metaphor for the pleasure of matching memories, the pull away from a common view and then powerfully toward one, the kind of created history that old friends or old lovers concoct for themselves out of fragments of the past and wishes and regrets. Because there are two of them, they act as measures for each other. They must take measures to remain in accord. Even saying this as vaguely as I'm saying it is too explicit, and yet I know I'm not making it up.

I'll never stop loving dance on stage, but the chance to see details, to change views, and above all to see dance in real settings makes a new thing, fully dance and fully cinema. With Alan Caudillo behind the camera and Lynn Shelton on the editing deck, the Spells have found their match. Shelton's editing is as witty as the funniest passages in the dance troupe's previous work, The Uninvited. Watch for the time when the sound of the dancers' feet accompanies movement that's different from what they danced to make those sounds--it's as surprising, and as simple, and as wonderful, as when Wile E. Coyote runs off the edge of the cliff and keeps churning his legs in thin air before he begins to fall. Caudillo's colors and his sense of when to move the camera and when to hold it stationary have access to the same fount of emotional meaning that the Spells tap into. Measure will eventually exist both on video and on film. I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I do hope the film is as good as the video. Caudillo and Shelton get a glowing, heated look on video that heightens the dancers' tale of memory and loss. But then again, that peeling corridor will probably look even better on film.

"Measured," along with all its automatic meanings as the past participle of "measure," also signifies "deliberately," and this meaning too graces the sprightly, gratifying Measure. Nothing about it seems hastily conceived or ill thought out, and yet it's only five minutes long, if you measure by the clock.

Measure plays as part of New Dance Cinema, running Thurs-Sun March 1-4 at the Little Theatre. In addition, 33 Fainting Spells will be on hand to discuss their work and dance cinema in general Sat at 2 pm as part of a free panel discussion. For more on New Dance Cinema, see review this issue.

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