Grounded: A Season of Screendance
Reviewed by Merlin Betts
Screendance is a hybrid genre that does what is says on the tin: brings together the norms of screen, particularly cinema, and key elements of dance. Sometimes, but not always, this will mean actors dancing on screen in a visual environment that fits the dance. Another way of putting it: screendance combines the choreographic intention and compositional form of dance with the language of cinema.
Last week, Coastal Currents hosted various short films on their website as part of Grounded: A Season of Screendance. The films were set into five screenings, each of which was online for 24hrs, from 6pm to 6pm, on different days. The filmmakers and participants are primarily from the South East and London, and included some of our local artists among their number. I sat down to watch the fourth screening in one session: eight films, at lengths of 2mins 30secs to 13mins 59secs. The theme or title of the set is “1+1=3 / Narratives. An Exploration of How our Bodies Try to Make Sense and the Stories We Tell.” They were nicely philosophical.
(1970), by Sally Potter
Three pairs of twins play happily together on a pavement in front of two unmoving cameras. The capture from each camera is played side-by-side on screen, only one of the two is in colour. The children frequently move from one world to the other, colour to greyscale, occasionally accompanied by pedestrian passers-by who do little to distract them. At various moments they stand still, once in the colour frame, once in black and white, once in the middle stretching across both realities, staring at the strange cameras above them – staring at us. The endearing innocence of childhood becomes both curious and accusatory. We may imagine them asking “what are those boxes [cameras]?” which seems to become “what are those people [adults/us] sitting around for?” The musical accompaniment, recorded at a live showing of the film in 2009, adds to every element of Play: the raw joy, the frantic chaos, the orderly pauses standing to attention, the lazier, more curious pauses.
Sally Potter began an apprenticeship at the London Filmmakers’ Co-op in the late 1960s. After making her experimental feminist short, Thriller (1979), Potter was given the opportunity to direct her first feature, The Gold Diggers (1983). Her later film, Orlando (1992), went on to great critical acclaim for its pioneering exploration of gender fluidity. Many significant and impressive works have followed. She is currently working on a new feature, Molly.
Because the Rest is Silence
(2020), by Andrew Kötting
A selection of aspects from Kötting’s previous films are reconfigured for what he calls “an hauntological gadabout”. The experience is a smooth collage of film, sound and text that washes over you like memory. Here the theme of screendance is represented perhaps more experimentally, but no less effectively. The film evokes an ‘almost nostalgia’ … the viewer left with a nagging feeling that this isn’t what they should be remembering at all, but still enjoying a kind of comfort in it, or familiarity with it. Haunting sounds and quotes from poetry or conversation guide us through the journey, which seems to end almost as an ode to meaning. Perhaps this is just my reading into it, but there’s a strange duality represented: there’s this fullness of life and content and purpose – but as much as it is something, it’s also nothing at all.
Kötting lives partly in Hastings and partly in the French Pyrenees. Gareth Evans says of him “Andrew Kötting is one of Britain’s most intriguing artists, and perhaps the only film-maker currently practising who could be said to have taken to heart the spirit of visionary curiosity and hybrid creativity exemplified by the late Derek Jarman.” See more of his work and biography on his website: www.andrewkotting.com
(2001), Harold Offeh
Following the lyrics of the Charlie Chaplin song Smile, as sung by Nat King Cole, Offeh holds a broad smile for the two minutes and fifty-eight seconds that the song lasts. This acts partly as a kind of teaser to Offeh’s original piece, in which he holds such a smile for thirty-four minutes. The performance perfectly complements those undercurrents of the song exemplifying “pain and sorrow”, the sense that the smile is forced, and that the actor’s inner life (which may be in ruins) is completely hidden from us. All we see is the attempt at ‘putting on a brave face’, and we’re left wondering how the appearance of contentment can be worth all that.
Offeh works in a range of media and has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally. He currently lives in Cambridge and teaches at a number of prestigious London arts colleges. Visit his website: www.haroldoffeh.com/info
Still from Oona Doherty’s ‘Concrete Song’
(2017), Oona Doherty, Dave Tynan, Hugh O’Connor
Set in streets, a bar and an alley in Belfast, the poetry and dance of Concrete Song perfectly match the contours and subtle beauties of their environment. Oona Doherty’s skill at dance is mesmerising to watch on its own, but in each scene it miraculously reveals something else about the world around her: how it is constructed, how it feels, how it can be interacted with. We begin to gain a new sense of how we as humans can and probably should be interacting with the physical world, which is a theme we see shining through in many of the shorts in this screening.
Concrete Song is the prologue scene of Oona Doherty’s Hard to be Soft – A Belfast Prayer series of short films and a cinematic version of Doherty’s Dance show of the same name. I strongly recommend a look at the website: www.hardtobesoft.com
How the Earth Must See Itself
(2019), Lucy Cash and Simone Kenyon
Extracts from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain accompany a troupe of autumn-coloured explorers in Glen Feshie. This piece removes us from our usual perspectives and brings a new, thoroughly fulfilling appreciation of one part of the natural world – a Scottish glen. We see the explorers still and contemplative in this stark and dramatic landscape, and then details: the city of life in the moss and twigs; the age of trees; the explorers undertaking yoga with the wind. Some scenes are almost erotic as hands and feet are rubbed into moss, but the eroticism there is more assumed than intended. As cinema viewers, we have lost our innocence. Really these scenes ask us to appreciate the feel of the natural world, and that singular comfort when scaling a steep hillside – the way the moss holds you close to land and away from wind, just as much as you hold it. These scenes collected seem to open a new or underused door of perception. For a moment we witness ourselves and the natural world, all connected, all conjoined.
Produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Words read by Shirley Henderson. See a shortened version of the film on the Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s website: www.ssw.org.uk/how-the-earth-must-see-itself
Still from David Blandy’s ‘How to Fly’
How to Fly
(2020), David Blandy
It was the last short on the webpage, so I took it as the conclusion to this screening. Blandy’s film starts as an honest guide or tutorial to the viewer, like a YouTube video. He tells us how we can make a beautiful and thoughtful film, on our own, on the computer, without going outside, and for very little money. He uses the PC version of the game Grand Theft Auto V to simulate a cormorant in flight along a sparse valley. Then he takes some video editing software to polish it up a little. Finally he Google-searches meanings and symbolism related to cormorants, and combines the google search with a few of his own words to build a narrative.
Suddenly, we find ourselves watching a very impressive video version of one of those inspiring quote memes. You know, the one with the astounding picture of nature or the moon or a sunrise in the background, and “you can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one” or something like that, in the foreground. That makes it sound cheap, but it isn’t. The actual video and Blandy’s narrative over it are excellent. All this, and the calm delivery throughout, just make me want to laugh endlessly. Doing a video on nature and the world while completely removed from it, using a game about guns and cars to watch a cormorant, finding meaning and symbols just because “I feel some kind of affinity with a cormorant”, and then presenting the video unashamedly as the finished product. It’s just perfect, dry, funny, and a good guide to lockdown or budget creativity that doesn’t look it. Watch here (if the link still works): jhg.art/video/david-blandy-how-to-fly
• Honourable mentions for Becky Edmunds and Evan Ifekoya. I simply ran out of words to describe their excellent presentations. These pages can only hold so much.
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