Re: New Series on Dance Film and Video

Scott deLahunta (
Sat, 19 Jul 1997 12:15:54 +0200

I missed out on the exchange several weeks ago when Andrea Sferes asked us
to take a look at Dance Online ( Generally, I
think Dance Online is making a major contribution by doing something few if
no other dance sites are doing by provided current information in the form
of reviews, interviews and short features on contemporary dance artists
passing through NYC. So, I was very curious to take a look at the new series
on Dance Film and Video which was just announced to the list.

At 05:03 PM 7/16/97 -0400, you wrote:
>***Dance Online launches new Series on Dance Film and Video***
>Our first piece in this series features an interview with ELLIOT CAPLAN,
>the filmmaker for the Merce Cunningham Company, and videos of his work.
>Dance Online's Kelly Hargraves spoke with Caplan about his work with
>Cunningham over the past twenty years and about their specific projects,
>including their latest film CRWDSPCR.
>The url is

I've snipped some of the interview out here to reflect on, please see the
site for full context:

snip ***
Dance and film are related arts. They share movement, time and space. They
are modes for action. From the beginning of cinematic experiments, dance has
had a place on the screen. From the famous Edward Muybridge clips of bodies
jumping and running, to the surreal, psychological studies of Maya Deren and
even the choreographies of dancer-filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the body in
motion has been a captivating subject for the camera.
end snip ***

... and the camera has served a reciprocating function. For example:
photographic media was the first to 'capture' bodies in motion... and has
had a major impact on our expectations of the physical capabilities of the
dancer. Just take a look at old film clips of dance and you will see that
the jumping body never appears to be as extended in space as it is now. I am
convinced that still motion photography inspired dance artists to learn how
to push the body into far more sharp, clear and extreme shapes at the height
of the jump than before. For Merce, film and now lifeforms have shown him
possibilities for movement he says he would have been unable to imagine.
Now, as more people seem to turn to using lifeforms (as evidenced by recent
list discussion) the technology continues to assert its influence on the
aesthetic parameters of the field. But the technology is still in early
stages, what happens when the user-friendly equivalent to the camcorder emerges?

[A film] has to incorporate the property of re-viewing and re-seeing. If you
see it once and don't need to see it again, then it's not successful. It's
got to have the possibility of a second viewing. If it doesn't it's not as
end snip***

The idea of 'second viewings' implies something which is importantly NOT
simply 'recycling'. Recycling suggests a perpetuation of consumerism/
consumption -- second viewing suggests something else. The web is beginning
to reflect some of these concerns -- there are advances being made in web
technologies which will create much more dynamic sites which 'change',
uploading new information each time the 'viewer' clicks in (see products on This development has been driven by the work being done to
dynamically link databases to the web -- going beyond simple html which is
essentially a static technology despite all the 'hype' about hypertext.

Cunningham's work is known for its formal nature, not dwelling on narrative,
character or personal relationships. In one sense, this makes his a fitting
subject for the camera. As on stage, the camera frame can be an open canvas
where the moving bodies, costumes and lighting can become elements in a
composition. In another sense, because film has developed as a story-teller...
end snip***

This business of narrative --- in America, Cunningham led the
anti-narrative/ formalist camp. In Europe it was the modernists from the
Bauhaus. In the last 20 years, we've seen narrative try to come back to the
dance stage in a big way. And yet, the audiences are shrinking. Film and
Cinema absolutely dominate. Now new media and communication technologies
have come along -- and we are positioned between an artistic medium and an
information medium, between reflection and entertainment, between expression
and instruction. Who is going to continue going to the stage and why? Is
there 'hope' for dance in there somewhere? I believe so... but the other day
a friend and I were talking about the possibility that the most interesting
work will start to come out of some strange fusion between 'traditional'
asian performance forms with the 'new' digital media...

I have sort of used the interview on dance-online to ride out a couple of
areas of thought which float around constantly in my brain. The last thought
I will express here is not a new one... but is one which is worth a 'second
viewing'. What is significant about mediums operating within the digital
framework is that they are so much more permeable, both practically and
theoretically, than from within the non-digital one. So, it becomes possible
to express all technological mediums of expression with one phrase: new
media technologies. When a single category so easily contains all others...
it makes the business of definition, making distinctions, and expressions of
and embracing of difference all that much more important, interesting and
fundamentally creative. This is what I would characterize as the most
liberating, and exhausting, aspect of our technological times.


Scott deLahunta and Susan Rethorst
Writing Research Associates, NL
Sarphatipark 26-3, 1072 PB Amsterdam, NL
tel: +31 (0)20 662 1736
fax: +31 (0)20 470 1558