Cinedance, Dance in Cinema, and Dancing Cinema

3 Choreography for the Camera

From the 1940s onward, Maya Deren developed — both in her writings and in her films — a particular conception of cinematic dance. She distanced herself from earlier forms of dance in film because she believed that in most dance films the helplessness of the camera prevails.[14] Departing from previous film experiments, although still maintaining their post-production methods, Deren focused on the individual moving in space. Thus, in Ritual in Transfigured Time (USA 1946), for example, she used editing, montage, and loops to transform a social party into a kind of ritual ballroom dance which is not based on a performed dance choreography but rather is the result of a cinematic choreography. In addition to post-production methods, two further elements are decisive in Deren’s cinedance, which can be performed only on film:[15] the camera, which is principally responsible for the movement, and space. Cinematic dance can take place in different locations in sequence, which (for technical reasons alone) is much more difficult to realize in stage dance. The setting in Ritual in Transfigured Time, for instance, moves from the house to the garden, to outdoor scenery and, finally, into the sea. Moreover, editing and montage allow Deren to rupture the oneness of location and space. Thus, the dancer in A Study in Choreography for Camera (USA 1945) frequently initiates a movement in one spatial context only to continue it in another. For example, a movement shifts from an outdoor forest setting directly into the interior of a house. Later a movement commences in this interior space only to be continued in the atrium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Deren’s ideas are still fundamental today for a specific form of cinema as dance. Although music does not play a central role in Deren’s work, there are numerous examples of associations between cinematic dance and music in the work of her successors. Ed Emshwiller’s Dance Chromatics (USA 1959) features dance, painting, and music; in Pas de Deux (CAN 1967), Norman McLaren uses an optical printer to process shots of a ballet choreography arranged specifically for this purpose so that several different phases of a movement appear to be copied on top of each other. Maurice Blackburn’s music consists of a two-and-a-half-minute looped recording of panpipes combined with a harp. The dancer’s movements unfold like fans either in tandem with the harp arpeggios or along the melodic line of the panpipes. The original choreography is thus transformed cinematically so that at the beginning of the film, for example, the dancer appears to be dancing with herself.