Dance Film Project artists talk process

Weeki Wachee, by Mike Hallenbeck and Henning Gabrielson

Weeki Wachee, by Mike Hallenbeck and Henning Gabrielson

Dance film has come a long way since Baryshnikov wooed audiences in 1976 with his performance in Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Contemporary artists from dance, film, and other artistic disciplines are now exploring innovative directions as to how dance can be experienced. This weekend, Cinema Revolution Society presents 24 original dance films by local artists who are all delving into the possibilities of what dance film can be. We interviewed some of the participants of the Dance Film Project via email. Here's what some had to say about their process. 

Zhauna Franks:

A company member with Ballet of the Dolls since 1987, Franks has in recent years turned toward choreography. While working she usually has everything mapped out beforehand, but for her film, Abandon, she decided to take a more collaborative approach with filmmaker Jenna Pace and sound designer Mike Hallenbeck.  

Franks says that she didn't feel limited by the challenge of working on camera, but rather felt freed from all her usual modalities. "In fact, I felt so much so that I chose not to choreograph my dancing for the piece at all, but rather improvise to completely arbitrary music on location," she says. It was liberating, she feels, to take the "let's see what happens" approach. 

Jaime Carrera: 

Carrera is no stranger to interdisciplinary work. He often changes hats as a visual artist, choreographer, filmmaker, and performer in his own work, as well as in collaborations. For his film Hustle, he and Tyler Jensen recruited as many performers from the local modern dance scene as they could. With the stipulation that they couldn't spend more than 30 minutes filming anyone, Carrera would teach the dancer their movement on the spot. They'd go to people wherever they happened to be at the moment that they were free to be filmed.  

Carrera says he agrees with Gene Kelly's assertion that audience's perception of dance is greater at a live performance. "You lose the freedom of letting the viewer's eye wander in a stage setting." On the other hand, Carrera found that they could control the same circumstances in film through the eye of the lens and with editing. "Both are equally valuable for different reasons," he says.  

Megan Mayer:

Choreographer Megan Mayer, who has done dance films before such as Over Time with Skewed Visions, worked on two films for this weekend's festival: Blue Argus, with her partner Kevin Obsatz, and Belt Beeper Scanner with Ben McGinley. 

Of the latter film, she says that some would argue that it's not actually a dance film. It's about two depressed characters who have to go to the grocery store and find ways to tap into a fantasy dance/rockstar life. Mayer says that she loves making dance films. "I think they're their own unique form, and have little to do with dance that might take place in a theatrical setting," she says.  

Ben McGinley:

Video artist Ben McGinley worked on three pieces for the festival--with Megan Mayer, Mad King Thomas, and Laura Holway. For him, what makes dance in person interesting doesn't necessarily translate into something that would be intersting on film. Luckily, he collaborates with a lot of choreographers and watches a lot of dance; so he has an understanding of the language of dance and how to use it in the language of film. He has an awareness, he says, of how movement and its pacing can be enhanced or disturbed by editing (slowing down, jump cut, crossfade, blackout, cutaway, etc.).  

His collaboration with Laura Holway for 390,566 began as a performance piece for the Red Eye Theater's Works-in-Progress program. The piece has gained some dynamics by turning it into a film because of the way they were able to reinterpret some portions at different locations. For example, in the original dance there was a section called "The Relay" which consisted of four individuals running from point A to B in a shuttle-run type race. In the dance film incarnation of this section, they translated one of the performer's relay into an energized stacking of books in a library, another into pushing a car down a driveway, and another into a race with a dog in a dog park. "These modifications enhanced and gave each individual more of their own flavor, so it wasn't synchronized movement where everyone was doing--more or less--the same thing," he says.   

Dance Film Project runs December 17 and 18 at the Southern Theater (1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis). There are two programs, one at 7 p.m. and one at 9 p.m. For more info, visit

Dance Film Project 2010 Trailer from Dance Film Project on Vimeo.