In all the upheavals of 2020 ̶ 21, there has been a seismic range of responses to Covid-induced constraints from dance companies, artists, entrepreneurs and media worldwide. Film-makers and videographers have engaged with choreographers and dancers as never before, and the results have been in some cases breathtaking.
Plenty of companies initially took a standard line of having dancers capture themselves on smartphones in daily work outs in their apartment kitchens and sending in the somewhat underwhelming results for their company to stream. It certainly highlighted, by their absence, the critical importance of the ballet masters’ role in the daily life of a dancer. Other companies saw the opportunity to make income from subscribers who could watch existing films of their repertoire broadcast within a limited time frame. Others again recognised with vision the unprecedented chance for what amounted to free publicity for their companies or theatres, and generously offered open viewing of works to audiences worldwide.
New York City Ballet presented several new choreographies designed for socially distanced preparation and performance, and these were screened alongside commentary and discussion with the performers. For me though the highlight was the exquisite Moon Water by Cloudgate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, due to be performed live at Sadler’s Wells, instead broadcast through pre-existing film. It was introduced especially for the occasion by choreographer, Lin Hwai-Min, and will remain indelibly memorable, in my mind and also those of friends who took the tip I sent them to watch. Many are still thanking me months later for what they describe as the most serene and consoling dance experience they have ever known.
Two further memorable examples of dance films that have crossed my screen as Arts Channel broadcasts during the Covid era are of flamenco artists—both of them phenomenally though differently talented. Rocío Molina was the subject of a documentary, Impulso, that tracked the choreographic progress of her new work from its beginnings in Madrid, through various previews in different Spanish venues, through to its premiere at the Théâtre national de Chaillot in Paris. Molina is a wild child but her passion to live through dance burns holes in your television screen.
The other program more recently screened, again through Sadler’s Wells, is of Maria Pagés from Seville. Her company’s mid-year season in London was cancelled, so a documentary was made instead. The choreographic vision ranged from portrayals of the seasons through traditional flamenco movement, in floreo and braceo arm movements, both timeless and sinuous. As well she draws on contemporary global phenomena—such as the rise of populism, weakening of democracy, culture of bullying. There were astonishing film clips of the braying, barking oratory of Adolf Hitler, the hammering rhythms and cadences of his declamations, which were then reproduced to startling effect in the rhythmic patterns of the dancers’ stamped canes. The sophistication of choreographic vision invites us all to consider how bullying in any situation can be countered or contained. Top marks to Sadler’s Wells for bringing this stage work to the screen.
Jennifer Shennan, 10 March 2021
Featured image: Moon Water performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo: © Liu Chen-Hsiang