Curatorial Essay

Cultivating the Accumulation of Possibility

by Kathy Sperberg, Curator

Being on the edge of something is a curiously textured spot to be in. That languid or staccatoed moment that merges both teetering, and the uncertainties that lie within, while colliding beautifully with the very real sensation of catapulting us into momentous optimism— where the great leap lives and thrives, with or without a soft landing.

Step lightly. Go feverishly.

This is where the vast body of artworks reside in Mouvement Perpétuel’s impressionistic dance-media films, arts documentaries and multi-channel video installations. A deeply intimate tracing of the curvatures of the human experience in all of its richly conflicted open ambiguities, while rooted in the shared experience of anticipation and its unfolding. Viewers are invited to consider investigations of what is found within that moment in flux—deliberate, accidental, sensuous, fluid and defiant in their narrative form.

Award-winning filmmakers, Marlene Millar and Philip Szporer, met through dance in 1986 and solidified their artistic union years later, now culminating in a breadth and scope of works spanning over three decades of individual practice, working together since 1999— merging dance arts, performance, journalism and filmmaking. A continuum runs throughout their films on dance exploring natural occurrences of themes of body as story, intimacy and the trajectories of the creative process across boundaries.

The collection of carefully conceived filmic expressions work in tandem to interpreting expansive choreographies and portraits of some of Canada/Quebec’s leading contemporary dancers and choreographers and from across cultures within Latin America, Europe and Asia. Revealed is a recasting of a distinct dance vocabulary imprinted on the minds of its viewers, thwarting us beyond the limitations of the physicality of space, capturing the complexities of each kinetic movement—temporal and emotive. Through electric multi-hued vistas, a submerging of natural or built environments, voices and bodies charged and outspoken—we are invited into the underpinnings of where beauty lies within the arc of story. Experiences lived, deeply felt and consuming.

“One objective is to guide the viewer’s eye and perception and lead them to an increased sense of body and movement with kinetic images that resonate in the mind.” – Mouvement Perpétuel.

Perhaps nowhere is this objective more apparent than in the cleverly meditative series of shorts that seemingly tremble—commanding our attention with their disarming authenticity in The Hunt (2005), Falling (2010) and The Greater the Weight (2008). Camera-steady, restrained and psyches shaken, The Hunt confronts us face to face with one man’s internal struggle manifesting itself before us, revealed through an intensified fragmented view of dancer, Peter Trosztmer, as choreographed by Sharon Moore. Pockets of light and electro-seismic soundscape echoes this kinetic fragmentation in the harrowing Falling, based on true events of dancer and choreographer Jeff Hall’s journey after taking a life changing fall that left him unable to walk, and his subsequent fight to regain his physicality. Falling celebrates the body’s arc of story—a revolution from within spread across the floor, from loss to re-finding mobility—amidst the murky waters and aftermath of personal tragedy. Its aesthetic eclipses in shock waves of capsuled movements of light wading through memoryscape conveyed through rhythmic editing against sonic ruptures. This continuum of stumbling and the discontinuities that occur when trying to get up are intensified with the fearless, unapologetic poetic performance in The Greater the Weight, an autobiographical piece by dancer and choreographer Dana Michel. Set within an empty boxing ring, there is an awakening of intent, movements and the camera’s language both pivot—confrontational, enraged yet never embattled.

Life experience collected is 40 (2009), as the camera scales the cerebral and physical crevices of a man on a journey to self-discovery, turning 40-something, still vital and strong yet taking stock, unmasking, and exposing his hopes, passions, vulnerabilities and regrets. The camera situates dancer, the late Ken Roy, in elegant hesitation and abstraction blur amidst a cast of blue light as he moves in and out of focus through contemplation. The piece gorgeously envelopes us to an open-endedness that age allots—moments of clarity and indecision intact. There is a moonscape lushness exposed as the camera in extreme close-up scales the male body as we remain privy to a dark and undefined soundscape merging both internal conversation, disjointed and purposely inaudible, to a more terrestrial intercom articulation—perhaps a sounding off of larger unresolved questions to the universe. The male experience and how four dancers negotiate and interpret some of life’s heavy-weighted questions—fear, intimacy, the father figure—are expanded upon in Quarantaine (2009)—a multi-disciplinary dance documentary adaptation of Charmaine LeBlanc’s 2008 stage production, “Quarantaine 4X4”. Energetically charged, ironic, there is a romantic ode to age through the quiet (riotous) dialogues of each dancer’s movement.

Compelling us further to various states of suspension and immersion is the use of sonic spatial design and the focus of temporal aspects through the sculpting of light, both literally (Butte) and figuratively (40, Quarantaine, Dafeena) informing vast amounts of Mouvement Perpétuel’s filmic terrain. There is a natural porous sensibility and resonance to their filming style that seeps through—raw and felt, (The Hunt, Butte, Dafeena, 40 and Falling).

“If there is a quality that has defined our work it is an approach that provides an intimate understanding of dance through the landscape of the body, capturing the immediacy, the urgency, and the subtlety of the choreography and performance.” – Mouvement Perpétuel.

The sense of immediacy is ever-present in the sprung open architectures of love—navigating emotional and physical landscapes in the relationships we share with each other, a soft place to fall (2006), or the connectedness we share with the land and spiritual world in Butte (2006) and Dafeena (2012). Each piece is a captive site-specific form of declaration of human connection. Intimacy takes hold of us in the encircling camera motion and its study of a couple’s relationship in a soft place to fall. The rich warmth of colours echoes the tenderness and turbulent dance that folds us in with its invited vulnerability, then recoils as the camera swerves the labyrinthine dizzying yet determined love. This connection permeates into one’s relationship with the land—its dreamlike state swathing us in gem-toned radiance in the sublime, Dafeena. Adapted from an original work by Natasha Bakht, the duet displays postures and steps from bharatanatyam. Shot in a crystal mine and abandoned copper quarry infuses the rhythmical movements of the guardians of the buried treasure (‘Dafeena’ in Urdu) where they melt into the land and jagged rock, our gaze is sculpted strategically, shot through the experiments of prisms of light refracting and layers of spun glass—repositioning our perception and the details of their union. The sense of devotion as ‘protector’ of the land, in all its sacredness, is the beauteous Butte (2006). A hypnotic swaying in this organic aesthetic propels us in extreme close-up to expansive open skies filmed on Blood Reserve in the plains and ancestral grounds of Southern Alberta—drumming amplified, pronounced with its use of spatial and temporal devices, dancer/performer, Byron Chief-Moon, seemingly blends within the elements of earth, air, water and fire. Butte and the documentary Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider (2007) unearth meaning within the story of self, the precarious balance between preserving oral traditions in a contemporary world and the intimate form of human connection found within this complex duality.

Part of Millar and Szporer’s immersive style is giving voice to artists—documenting the artist’s creative process, sourcing the infrastructure of seeing and the anatomy of the idea—stripped of its theatrical. Such approaches are uncovered in Moments in Motion (2004), Raising the Bar (2005) and in the circular connectedness revealed by the repertory dancers of Philadanco, nurtured by maverick founder, Joan Myers Brown, in Standing at the Edge: We Dance (2001). Each arts documentary investigates choreographer/artists’ methodologies, the spaces that incubate innovation and ways of seeing through dedicated perseverance. Through looking deeper, each artist is in the constant state of searching for ways in which to see the body—never leaving the spectator necessarily seeing the same as the other.

“The productions are often conceptually cross-cultural, with hybrid content and form, and we, as filmmakers, want to open ourselves to dialogue on layered authenticities.” —Mouvement Perpétuel.

Eko & Sen Hea: a journey beyond (1999), Creating Across Cultures (1999) instigate a visual and aural discussion about the representation of the role of dance and its impact on social relevance, humanism and the meaning of true engagement. Universal Tea (2000)—a World Tea Party Trolley by artist Bryan Mulvihill, perhaps best punctuates this necessity of belonging by positioning tea as our social common denominator—the art and significance of the human meeting as our finest global gesture.

The challenge of filming dance is to define a filmic language that does not limit the viewer to interpretations based only from what occurs within the confines of the frame. Performance breathes and lives beyond that. The directional style of Millar and Szporer personifies a subtle grace yet a distinct character in as much as the choreography itself, transforming our perception, suspension, and bursts open wide spatial conventions—encouraging active seeing, never passive—beyond the medium, the frame and site.

The contour of works in the collection are unfastened in perpetual motion, its name etched wide, a story on its own that calls out and stops us in our tracks—one foot landed looking back at the pillars that assembled or tumbled before us in our personal histories—while trying to reconcile in that same lingering moment and asking what is next?

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