There are few examples of what dance and the camera can be that reach the caliber of Amelia from La La La Human Steps.
The 2002 production, choreographed by Edouard Locke, melds incredible feats of dance into a feature length production that is simultaneously engaging, challenging and entertaining. The excerpt below is from this longer work and is one of the most intricate and breathtaking uses of classical ballet I’ve seen performed.
While the technical proficiency can not be denied in this work, the use of the camera to break the formal presentation of this classic art-form is really groundbreaking and highlights things that would be missed in traditional presentation as well as in traditional documentary footage. This exemplifies the camera as a tool, a co-creator and an audience in and of itself.
Camera as Tool:
Framing the initial shot of the dance, the camera zooms in to focus our attention on the performer. Bringing us closely in line with her stillness, searching for movement and in doing so, bonding our connection to her.
The subtleties of the dance are highlighted through the use of the camera’s tools of rotation and distance, keeping the viewer focused on the elements the choreographer wants you to see, while ignoring the open space until the intricate spell is broken by the pedestrian movement. Further, such play in focus and space directs your attention to elements that perhaps would have been lost if conceiving this work in a traditional performance environment, such as the shadow play in the middle of the work (2:37-2:55).
Through the dance, the camera becomes a tool that shapes the environment, frames the dancing, elevates the performance and completes the vision.
Camera as Co-Creator:
Dancing with and for a camera enables many things that simply could not take place in a traditional, or even certain site specific places. The performance space here is both hard and soft, smooth and angular, highlighting the juxtaposition of the dance, the lighting, the costumes and the movement itself. While certain elements of this could have likely been done in a site specific place or in a transformed theater, the effect would not have been as immersive, as visceral as expressed through the angles and shots used during this performance.
Examine the overhead shots (1:13-1:17), the rotation of the camera to ideally capture the movement (0:39-0:50) and sculpt the audience’s perspective (5:02-5:29), the intimate space achieved through close ups(3:33-3:55) , the use of slow motion (0:14-0:33) and time lapse (4:42-4:51), (as well as the benefit of multiple takes)….these elements take the dance to another place it could not have gone to on its own. In this way, the camera is also co-creator, lending a voice and an eye to the choreographers and performers who are willing to collaborate.
Camera as Audience:
A live audience has a certain feel to a performer, the energy it exudes feeds a performance and can make or break even the best of work. Dancing with the camera as audience requires a unique understanding of the needs of that particular audience. First, that you can be seen from many different depths instead of only from the stage, that this audience will not feed you the same energy, but demand an even more superior performance since its memory is infallible.
It is also expressly malleable, in that through the tools of a camera one can shape the eventual audience’s experience to the minutia. The use of color, props, costume, music, sets, angles, space all create a world that exists solely within the camera’s experience as audience member in much the same way that work created with a theater audience in mind would be entirely new and different when transposed to a site such as a subway station. The audience’s perspective has changed, what they bring changes, what they expect and their interaction changes the work.
Amelia remains one of my favorite works and hosts some incredible dancing by a caliber of performer most people never get the opportunity to see live, but through their incredible attention to the possibilities of dance and camera, La La La have created a most intimate experience that leaves you feeling as though you were more than in the audience, but rather the very air around them.