More Than Pirouettes at Dance Film Showcase

‘Dirty Dancing,’ ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Center Stage’ are all popular films, but dancing was displayed in a different light in the Student Dance Film Showcase, held Saturday Oct. 28 as part of the UC Irvine Dance Film Festival. Directed and curated by dance and media professor John Crawford, the third-annual show hosted dance films from graduate students from the United States and China.
The showcase began with an entertaining work titled ‘Break It Down.’ The piece, directed by UCI graduate student Marc Sicignano, focused on a single break dancer mixing break dancing tricks while using a non-moving camera and a spotlight with different lighting schemes.
The choreography complemented the music and the dancer’s agility well. The use of props, including a chair and a piano, nicely balanced the flatness of the stationary camera. The cuts were well-edited in the style of a music video, and the transitions from one color scheme to another weren’t too jarring.
The second work, ‘Untitled (A Pole Study),’ by UCI graduate student Lauren Thompson, was memorable and a good match for a college audience. Set to bluesy music, the film opens with a shot of a silver pole in the middle of a room. The film tells the story of a woman who wakes up on a Sunday morning to find that her husband has not yet returned. Deciding to leave him, the woman sets up a video camera to film herself dancing on the pole and leaves the tape as a goodbye memento.
The choreography of the piece is well-crafted to show the melancholy of the woman and the loneliness she feels. It was one of the most effective pieces in the showcase at capturing emotion, especially with regards to the agony involved every time the woman makes a contraction. Thompson also displays warm colors in the frames and places a vibrant red curtain in the background to emphasize the sensuality of the film.
‘One Simple Phrase,’ directed by graduate student Li-Ann Lim, is similar to ‘Break It Down’ in that both directors experiment with more than one form of media. Lim brings dance to outside spaces in this work. By looping 10 seconds of choreography, she shows a progression from the opening frames, which are focused on the face and the top half of the dancer’s body, to a wider shot of the dancer. The use of different elements is intended to show the contrast between the noises in the city and the quiet in the country, but instead it just creates confusion.
The last student film in the showcase was ‘Yeah! We Were Bored!’ The film was made by Cota/Thompson and was a crowd favorite. The short opens with Usher’s song ‘Yeah,’ which creates a relaxed atmosphere. Originally filmed in Iraq by a Marine who had dance experience, the director transformed his own experience of being stationed in Iraq to film.
There were humorous scenes of Marines dancing around in their underwear and teaching one another how to dance. The short had a down-to-earth quality that was similar to Sicignano’s piece.
Overall, the dance films were not as enticing as I had thought they would be. The two-dimensional view of dance lacked some of the connectivity of live dance performances, but it was enjoyable and stimulating nonetheless to see a wide genre of video and the directors’ experimentation with media.