Bringing Screendance to South Africa By Mike Aldridge Translating the principles of movement into meaningful form on screen has been an intrinsic part of filmmaking ever since the silent movie era, when the lack of narrative sound forced directors to exploit movement to tell a story.
oday there is a renewed focus on the body as a narrative instrument on screen with the advent of the theoretical discipline of Screendance, which informs filmic modalities from music videos to popular dance films and the extremes of video art. Screendance specialist Jeannette Ginslov recently returned to South Africa after some years spent overseas, where among other things, she did an MSc in the discipline at the University of Dundee in Scotland. As Ginslov explains, Screendance is “an umbrella term to encapsulate dance film, dance video and video dance”. Dance film prioritises linear narrative and plot in a cinematic production which has a script and characters. Dance video on the other hand prioritises the choreography of dance in terms of how shots are set up and sequenced to inform the narrative. Then there is video dance, which is the most theoretical and experimental mode,
extracting from filmic genres such as dogme, cinema verité, film noir and so on and even uses video effects to expand the range of narrative form on screen. “It is questioning and open-ended, exploring and pushing the envelope,” says Ginslov. “That is the model that I like most to explore.”
film production, television and the Internet. And there is a special place for dancers as filmmakers in such productions, for as Ginslov observes: “Dancers who cross over into cinema understand what the medium does in terms of the moving body. They are exploring other ways of seeing the body, other ways of registering and capturing the movement than was traditionally taught in filmmaking.” Ginslov’s background as a dancer led to her interest in the Screendance genre. Born in Durban, she studied dance in South Africa, New York and France. She choreographed and directed awardwinning dance works and in 2006 founded multimedia dance theatre company Walking Gusto Productions. As an interdisciplinary artist Ginslov facilitates Screendance residencies and directs, shoots and edits her own Screendance works that centre on the moving body and its digital materiality. Her Screendance works have been screened at the BBC Big Screen Outdoors UK, Danish Film Institute DK, British Film Institute, Lincoln Centre NY, Red Cat Theatre LA and many other Screendance festivals around the globe.
One of the most influential figures that helped shape Screendance was the experimental and avant-garde American filmmaker Maya Deren. In the 1940s and 1950s Deren made experimental dance films, reinventing and breaking traditional cinematic rules. This helped pave the way for Screendance to emerge as an art form in its own right. Since then Screendance has diversified and moved on to mainstream forms and outlets such as music videos, mainstream
Ginslov brings her own experience of movement to the observational viewpoint of the filmmaker. “For the dancer, the lens is an extension of the filmmaker’s eye – but the lens is connected not only to your eye but to your centre of gravity. “If you are using your legs as a bipod, everything is highly mobile and you are connected through this moving body to your own centre. This is the perfect meeting point where the cinematic medium can really exploit the full potential of the moving
body.” She believes that filmmakers are often disengaged from the moving body and so their cinematic technique is also disconnected from the body in motion. “As a dancer you learn about the connection of movement with cinematic production. You are not standing back and framing, you are engaging with the moving material – it is a completely different set of rules,” she says. “That movement is translated into the film and then to the viewer, where the viewer is viscerally engaged with the moving images. Just as in the locally made film Otello Burning where there are hardly any static shots at all.”
Collaboration Ginslov’s current venture in collaboration with dance filmmaker Dominique Jossie is a company called Screendance Africa (Pty) Ltd. “Our aim is to grow Screendance in South Africa and Africa generally, to teach youngsters about Screendance and to organise events such as Screendance festivals and Dance-aAlongs – outdoor events where we screen well-known dance films that the audience can dance along to, led by professional dancers,” she says. Ever at the forefront of technology, Ginslov is also working on projects using augmented reality, blending Screendance and location-based video which can be viewed on smart phones or tablet computers. “Augmented reality is one of the next big steps for the future of Screendance,” she says. So the next time you find Ginslov, it may well be on the screen of your smart phone – creating dances in the virtual space of digital materiality. January 2013 | SCREENAFRICA | 17