Friday, January 13, 2012

Two Canadian dance movies

Due to a bit of a hiccup with some overuse of the broadband this month, we wound up having to get some additional gigs to see us through.   Of course, now we have an excess of gigs and are trying to use them up before their expiry date on the weekend.  Consequently, last night, I checked out some movies I wouldn't normally have chased up and in a moment of serendipity came across the site of the National Film Board of Canada.  (I'd started to look at the 1950 version of Cyrano de Bergerac, but it didn't grab me, and Hitchcock's Spellbound, which is supposed to be available online turned out to consist of only the first five minutes...with Asian subtitles plastered all over the picture.  Likewise, Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, which I haven't seen for decades, isn't available outside the States, apparently.)

But I spent a glorious hour or so watching two shorter movies, both of them focused on dance.   The first was Flamenco at 5.15 which features Susana and Antonio Robledo as they take a class of young Canadian ballet dancers and show them what is involved in dancing flamenco.   Though it's supposed to be a single class, I suspect it's actually a compilation of several.   Be that as it may, it's just a wonderful celebration of youth and vitality, and of the enthusiasm of the older couple as they impart all their longheld knowledge.

Antonio plays the piano - he began his career as a concert pianist and got 'sidetracked' - and gives lessons on the various ways clapping is used in the dance form.  Susana works on the movement, and the sublime subtlety of expression that this particular form of movement can convey.   The youngsters are a wonderful bunch - none of them looks any older than fifteen - and have picked up the rhythms and gestures and steps with skill and the sort of enthusiasm only youngsters have.   Check out the boy with the mop of hair who breaks into a great grin several times during the documentary.   He's a delight, and he gets the crowning moment of the movie to show off his work.

The second film is called Lodela.  I almost gave it away in the first minute when the male dancer seemed to be doing contortions that were impossible, but fortunately stayed on.   This is a sublime piece of filmmaking: it celebrates the human body in detail: hands, fingernails, eyes and eyebrows, nostrils, legs and arms, torsos, and the intricacy of bodies shifting around each other.  Two dancers, one male and one female, appear in it.  These are José Navas and Chi Long; Navas also choreographed much of the film.   The filmmaker is Phillipe Baylaucq, and the film is described this way on the site: Inspired by the myths of the afterlife, this allegorical dance illuminates the soul's quest by exploring movement and the human body in new and astonishing ways.  An evocation of the origins of the world.  A hymn to the beauty of the human form.  A celebration of movement.  A metaphor for life and death.  A film without words. 

The afterlife aspect didn't particularly strike me as relevant in watching the movie, which has minimal 'story' - the man appears first seemingly striving to break through the large circle of light he inhabits.  After some time the woman appears and they engage in delight and joy and desire and (briefly) aggression, and who knows what else.  Eventually the man moves through the light and is seen no more, and the woman closes the piece.   But that's the barest of descriptions.  Constantly, as I watched it, the film seemed to be about the wonder of the body and how beautiful it is.  If it achieves nothing else for the viewer, that's enough.  You can throw in allegories and metaphors as you like.   This is a wonderfully conceived piece of abstract dance that knows what it's doing without having to say it out loud.

The dancers are clothed in the briefest of garments, and there's a warning about there being nudity and sexuality in the film.   But there's no offensiveness in the nudity (the woman has no upper garment, basically) and as for sexuality, this film is as pure as any great work of art that celebrates the fact of male and female.  You won't find eroticism here, not in the usual sense anyway.

It's full of breathtaking moments, one of them occurring early in the piece when the man, seen crouching upside down on the light (the large circle of light plays its own part in the dance) suddenly extends to full length as though he's dropping downwards, held on only by the soles of his feet.   You have to see it to understand what a creative idea it is, and you realise a moment later that you're watching him with the camera upside down, but when it happens you gasp.  The man spends quite of a bit of his time at one point upside down, in one section dancing on a line while the woman is 'above' him dancing not completely in unison, but with her steps counterpointing his.  Momentarily they will be out of sync with each other and then suddenly their feet synchronise on the line again.  It's utter magic.

The magic is only broken once after this, when the screen fills with duplicate versions of the couple.  For me this was the only shot in the film that disturbed the flow.  Other than this, the dancers, the light and shadow, the music (itself often abstract, but always effective), the camerawork and the editing all combine to produce an extraordinary film.   Catch up with it if you can.  

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