Notes and Editorial Reviews
A HISTORY OF DANCE ON SCREEN
A film by Reiner E. Moritz
featuring Alvin Ailey, Pina Bausch, Maurice Béjart, Matthew Bourne, Margot Fonteyn, Martha Graham, John Neumeier, Rudolf Nureyev, Anna Pavlova, Roland Petit, Sasha Waltz, and more.
In this revelatory documentary, director Reiner E. Moritz poses the question: How has the media influenced dance in the twentieth century and vice versa? Over this period an extensive archive of beautiful choreography, performed by the finest dancers has accumulated on film and television, resulting in a major dispersion of dance through the media. In addition, new art forms such as dance movies and ballet films have emerged from this development in
moving images, where dance is created specifically for the camera.
A History of Dance on Screen contains an impressive amount of archive footage featuring the greatest dancers and choreographers of the twentieth and twenty first centuries, framed by in-depth interviews with great personalities of the contemporary dance scene.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Audio language: English
Subtitles: German, French
Running time: 90 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
R E V I E W:
A HISTORY OF DANCE ON SCREEN
Anna Pavlova, Maya Plisetskaya, Isadora Duncan, Fred Astaire, Moira Shearer, dancer
ARTHAUS 101690 (DVD: 90: 00) A film by Reiner E. Moritz
This is an utterly fascinating DVD, so much so that instead of splitting up my viewing between two sessions (as I often do) I watched it from start to finish in one sitting. You never notice how much time is going by, because you just keep watching and listening, trying to absorb everything that Reiner Moritz throws at you. Yes, there are film clips of the pioneers of dance on film, including Ellen Price (the model for the famous “Little Mermaid” sculpture in Copenhagen) in 1903, Tamara Karsavina in 1920, Anna Pavlova in 1924, Isadora Duncan, Fred Astaire, Maya Plisetskaya, Nureyev and Fonteyn, etc., etc., etc., but the clock moves on and the styles of dance move with it. What I found really satisfying about this film is that it does not just stick to the “famous names” among choreographers and specifically to the French-British-American axis. Yes, we get examples of Martha Graham, Balanchine, Neumeier, Petit, Ailey and Béjart, but we also get some strange and wonderful examples of Birgit Cullberg, Ji?í Kylián, and other Scandinavian and Eastern European choreographers who do some amazing things (including a ballet using handicapped people, some in wheelchairs and one male dancer with no legs!).
Nor are these modern marvels presented as freak one-offs, but as part of the evolving shape of ballet in the modern era, where a great deal of Broadway, film, and breakdance choreography are now blended with “classic” ballet moves. Moritz plunges us straight into the documentary, without benefit of opening credits, with a Modernistic production of
Le sacre du printemps
(which, to be honest, I did
like), and then going almost immediately into a series of close-up interviews with famous choreographers, dancers, and dance critics. In a way the film reminded me of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony or Puccini’s
both of which pretty much just start up without benefit of opening music or preamble and get you right into the action. In addition, Moritz has the gift of making you “see” images you’ve seen before with entirely new eyes by juxtaposing these familiar images with unfamiliar ones. True, I was not completely sold on every new-fangled idea that emerged in the last half hour of the film, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to expose you to the widest possible experience in the shortest amount of time without making you feel dizzy or at sea, and in this mission he succeeded admirably.
One tiny bit of genius is that he begins his survey of historic dance images with a particularly strange one, filmed by an operator in Rome who was working for the Lumière brothers. This was a dancer—and not a classically trained one—who created strange and unusual butterfly effects by swirling an oversized (and malleable) costume swathed about her in Loie Fuller’s
. This effect was heightened in person by having different-colored lights play on the cloth as she swirled about; the Lumière brothers hand-tinted the frames with alternating colors to suggest the rainbow-like changes of hue. In many ways, it was a symbol and a metaphor for what was to come.
Adding to the fascination of the film were the snippets of choreographies with a sense of humor, such as Matthew Bourne’s tongue-in-cheek dance of male cygnets in
but most especially Kylián’s madcap, slapstick ballet
(If you can’t get quite enough of
from this film, be advised that there is more of it available as a trailer on the DVD.) This is another feature of modern ballet that, a few iconoclasts aside, would never have been done 40 years ago, playing an entire ballet for laughs and still retaining one’s integrity as a dancer and/or a choreographer. Happily, Moritz seemed to have been as curious about different aspects of modern dance as we the viewers would have been. The only portion of the film that, sadly, could not come off for home viewing on a two-dimensional screen (not even in high definition) was the clip he showed of a ballet filmed in 3D.
But this is a ballet video that almost everyone with even a cursory interest in the art form should own. It’s fascinating, fun, and for the most part historically accurate. It would also make a great gift for any occasion or holiday to a dance-loving friend (hint, hint).
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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