I tend to like my dance smuggled into back alleys of movies. There, it can puncture a narrative with a spike of optical sensation, opening up hidden strains in the plot and jolting viewers into a sudden awareness of their own bodies and the adrenaline in their blood. I like being distracted by dance. I like it when stories fall to pieces, and movement rushes in. For me--and most every other film enthusiast with a pulse--there is no better example of dance as glorious interruption than the final scene from Claire Denis' Beau Travail, in which a fallen legionnaire played by Denis Lavant struggles to find his moves in a deserted discotheque.

When dance doesn't have the luxury of being shoved into the last two minutes of a feature film, its task is much more difficult. In New Dance Cinema 2005, curated by local luminaries 33 Fainting Spells (who are no slouches at the genre themselves), the features, like Eduoard Lock's Amelia, can go on a little too long. The same qualities that make dance film especially intense--the precise control of light, the flicker of expressions across dancers' faces, the elastic coordination of camera with moving bodies--can smother you over the course of an hour. Meanwhile, shorter films that hinge on a specific conceit, such as Lloyd Newson's The Cost of Living, risk glibness. But there's still something bracing and delicious about watching dance skillfully choreographed for film.

The feature-length Amelia, which is adapted from a stage dance of the same title, is performed by the stunning Montreal dance troupe La La La Human Steps. Some of my favorite dance films use found spaces that would be inhospitable to live performance (see the corridor of the Bainbridge Island boarding school that practically costars in 33 Fainting Spells' Measure), but Amelia takes place in a wholly artificial, constructed space. The blond wood floor curves upward into wall on all four sides, and the resulting interior looks like something like space pod as envisioned by Wallpaper* magazine. (The parade of sexy dancers in identical suits and see-through boy-short leotards wouldn't be out of place on the pages of a shelter glossy either.) The piece is a pointe performance edited so that one pair of dancers seamlessly replaces the next in a series of stuttering, highly athletic duets, interspersed with several short works for larger groups of dancers. Andre Turpin's camerawork is sometimes excessively showy--the right-angle rotations that make it appear as though the dancers are falling against a wall is two sight gags too many. But the exceptional dance and stylish music (by David Lang, using lyrics by Lou Reed) make the long film worthwhile.

Two half-hour works jostle each other in the "Long Shorts" program, and they couldn't be more opposed. A loose narrative work from the UK about sideshow performers at a fading seaside boardwalk, The Cost of Living is full of Geek Love-style humor and features an adorable Hula-Hoop seduction scene. The digital image is as impoverished as the setting, and the bristling energy of the video is more about youth and the potential uses of dance film than it is about the economics referred to in the title. Solo, a gorgeous, sensual featurette by Belgian director Thierry Knauff and performer Michele Noiret, belongs to a completely separate tradition indebted to the psychological abstraction of Maya Deren. The images are full of depthless 35-mm blacks and stark whites. Asynchronous sound aligns the shuffling movement of Noiret's feet with a sound like two sandpaper blocks rubbing against each other, while the rapid movement of her hands in close-up is juxtaposed with the flapping of birds' wings. The effect is prickly and extremely satisfying.

The festival includes a number of documentaries that focus on the rehearsal process, including the underdeveloped but charming Ladies and Gentlemen After 65, about a cast of seniors assembled by choreographer Pina Bausch to reprise a 1978 performance work about the relationships between men and women. There's a shorts program that incorporates several local works (nothing by 33 Fainting Spells, sadly, though 33FS member Dayna Hanson co-directs a video called Seagull Picture). And the opening-night party features a modified version of locust's convenience, the adorably titled convenient cubby. I might be there, but then again, I might wait around for next year's festival, when (if the curators know what's good for them) we'll get to see Claire Denis' first dance documentary, which is making the rounds at European festivals now.

annie@thestranger.com

Support The Stranger