Monday, March 5, 2007

Symposium Report I: Film

I'm a little overwhelmed by yesterday. There were so many awesome parts, and so many disappointing moments.

I am going to make two reports: one about the films, and one about the conversation. I'm not going to talk about the performances -- all I can say is ... If you are in the Bay Area, go and see Jess Curtis' Under the Radar @CounterPulse. If you are not, watch out for possible Anicca performances from the Undressed Project. This seems to move around a lot.

In the first category of awesome were the films themselves: Taut, Restless (Kaz Langley), Crip Shots and Dreaming Awake (John Killacky), Outside In (Victoria Marks), Phoenix Dance (Karina Epperlein), and video footage of AXIS. I was surprised to find that I had already seen everything but Kaz' work.

UPDATE: this is now Tuesday ... I crashed out in the middle of writing this, apparently.

And what work it was. Taut and Restless confound the distinctions between choreographed movement and movement arising from disability. It's beautiful; she's beautiful. I mean, absolutely mesmerizing. And that's really important; it goes straight to the questions I have raised here and here; look for the material buried deep in these posts. How can disabled movement become choreography? Can we, as audiences, learn to see involuntary motion as dance, when dance, traditionally, has been seen as an arena of hyper controlled motion?

Killacky's work pulled me in two directions -- and this is purely about me, not Killacky. I am very unsure about how we should talk about pain and loss as aspects of disabled life. The non-disabled community is so convinced of the loss and overcoming narratives that I am hyper sensitive to anything that even suggests regret and/or sorrow. Killacky takes this on. Face-first. In Crip Shots, Judith Smith's sequence is called Unspoken Tears. The title prepares you to think about the loss, the drama, the tragedy, but Ms. Smith's dancing doesn't allow you to go there. As you watch her dance, you, well, I don't see that. I see grace, beauty, and strength. Killack shows Smith in the studio moving informally, in costume, dancing, and just moving. We see her face, get the sense of the wind in her hair, and perceive the joy in her eyes. There's a wheelchair, yes, and Smith and Killacky stop you (me) from even being tempted to see an overcoming narrative. There is no "overcoming" here. There is only Ms. Smith dancing: a dancer on her own terms.

Dreaming Awake has a mantra about being afraid to sit down in case the speaker never gets up -- sorry, I don't have a direct quote. Mr. Killacky said that the short expresses some of his ambivalence about a wheelchair. But the film itself lends new meaning to some critical tired old sentiments. This is not your PT yelling at you -- use it or lose it (oh, btw, see Reality Check Woman on the new mantra -- conserve to preserve -- again, deep in the post). These are images of dancers and dancing. Of disabled bodies moving. Of bodies moving. Of pointed feet and dystonic feet. Of legs, a prosthesis. Movement. Again, the words hint at the old ugly stereotypes, but the film takes the possibility of prejudice and turns it on its head.

I have written about Karina Epperlein's film here. The words that surround this film in the publicity material trumpet Homer's triumph, the overcoming, and the filmmaker's inspiration. Again, these, for me, are dodgy moments. And, when Homer's voice comes on at the very beginning, you think the film is going fall into these stereotypes. (Homer says that something like everything that happens, whether good or ugly, is for good; it is beauty.) But the film, perhaps due to the energy of the dance, and certainly to the skill of the filmmaker, steps so far away from the stereotype that you can almost come to hear those words anew -- as a kind of spiritual philosophy.

Outside In was set on Candoco, the leading British integrated dance company. The film is funny, flirtatious, and witty. This is its strength. It rushes away from the idea of "serious work." There is no serious teaching here; you have to enjoy the film to get its message. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the odd angles. Laugh at the comedy; flirt with the dancers; enjoy their sexiness. Then, you will understand the beauty of disabled movement.

AXIS showed an all-too-brief (the event was running so seriously behind schedule) clip from Dust -- also choreographed by Victoria Marks. This showed some technically virtuoso, explosive dance. I have never seen this performed live; I just wished there could have been more.

As you can see, this was a treat. The disappointing parts came in the conversation surrounding the films and in the conversation about physically integrated dance as a whole.

Note: the films were not captioned, there was no ASL interpretation, and no audio description. I know this is expensive. REALLY expensive. But if you are committing to accessibility.... But you can't know who might want to come and isn't present, if the accommodations aren't present.

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