Dance Chromatics

Still from Dance Chromatics (1959) by Ed Emshwiller
Courtesy of the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC)

Dance Chromatics (1959), Ed Emshwiller’s second film, is the first of a series of films and videos in which this artist works with dance. In Dance Chromatics, he combines his abstract painting with the movements of dancer Nancy Fenster, which are performed to Lou Harrison’s percussion piece Canticle #3 (1942). Painting – fittingly for the medium of film and for its combination with dance and music – is set into motion by visualizing the genesis of the brushstrokes. Dance and painting are ingeniously combined through montage, so that painting becomes a setting for dance and, at the same time, dancing takes place in painting itself. As a result of this interlacing, the dancer becomes part of the cinematic painting, while the painting seems to be part of the choreography. The painting is initially in black and white, and the dancer wears a white leotard and performs simple movements in correspondence with the wide brushstrokes. When, for example, a broad black stroke on white ground pushes from the right into the field of view, the dancer’s arm moves in and out of this stroke as a white form. As the music adopts a denser instrumentation and a faster rhythm, the coloring also changes. The dancer and the painting are now shown in shades of red and yellow. The painting and the dancing become increasingly complex, with the dancer now performing turns and jumps. Moreover, the shots have been edited with the use of special effects, making the dancer’s motion sequences at times appear slightly staggered. The layering of the motion sequences seems to represent an attempt to find a cinematic equivalent for the rhythmic layering of the music. Emshwiller adds a new feature to the characteristics of cinedance as it was first defined by Maya Deren. In addition to taking place beyond the stage and being edited in post-production, Emshwiller’s cinematic dance is coupled with cinematic painting to create a new choreography.


  • original Title: Dance Chromatics
  • Date: 1959
  • Genre: Dance film

see aswell: Works