Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Cutting room floor

Wednesday, December 30, 1998

KUNST-STOFF's dance films show the value of a choreographic edit. Sima Belmar San Francisco Bay Guardian A dance film (read: a film in which dance is used as the narrative medium) involves two kinds of choreography and the choreographic edit. The dance films presented as part of the multimedia "happening" KUNST-STOFF (art stuff) at Brady Street Dance Center (Dec. 18-20) suggest that a good dance film depends more on the latter than on the former. KUNST-STOFF codirectors Tomi Paasonen and Yannis Adoniou are both former ballet dancers who have begun to choreograph and make dance films on their own. Their stage work tends to be mired in shock value and the desire to be bizarre, suffering from too much noise and too little choreographic meat. But on film they find real moments of light grace. Adoniou's Birth (1998), which premiered at the Footage dance film festival in October, features flowing scenes of twirling torsos and lilting limbs. Though thematically heavy-handed (dancers dangled at their belly buttons from giant plastic-wrap umbilical cords) and cinematographically inconsistent (too much fancy camera work), the film brought Adoniou's soulful vision to a higher level, his often bland balletic choreography benefiting from film's editing process. A choreographer can make a dance based entirely on how it feels. Alone in the studio she or he can mess around with movement, structure, theme, and variation, without any feedback from an outside eye, gaining no perspective on the final outcome. Even with the help of video it is quite difficult to edit a dance. Writers have editors. Dancers have mirrors that lie. Countless hours in the editing room force filmmakers to put themselves in the viewer's scat. The editing process is part of the end result, a good film being a combination of strong material and a smart edit. A fine film edit can be liked to a finely wrought dance. The strongest film on the bill (the films were curated by Katy Kavanagh) was Salt Flat Pieces (1998) by Alex Ketley ad Christian Burns. A man dressed in a gray suit and goggles danced with his briefcase across Utah's sea of salt. In one section the precise modern balletics performed on-screen were mirrored by Ketley onstage. Another slow-motion, film-only sequence featured the man drop-kicking his briefcase and doing a series of elaborate falls evoking the spirit of corporate hysteria and bipolar downsizing. In the case of Salt Flat Pieces, the quality of the stage and filmic choreography was equally strong, the two media contributing to a consistent surreal mood. The film component emphasized the kinesthetic aspect of the movement, while the live dancing drew out the sparse visuals of the film: a gorgeous thing. The cannabis-free film Pothead (1995) by Evann Siebens began with Adoniou's walking under the Brooklyn Bridge with a pot on his head. Removing the pot, he performed a lovely bit of modern ballet. Replacing the pot, he walked along the water's edge. One viewing suggested little meaning, but the film did manage to capture Adoniou's virtuoso dancing convey a nebulous form of pathos in the process. Film has the capacity to highlight the best of a choreographer's movement vocabulary. But more than that, film can teach choreographers who compose the material for, direct, and sometimes perform in their dances a valuable lesson: editing is the all-important final touch on a work of performance art. If you can't do it yourself (and why should you?), ask someone to take a look and help you pull out the best you've got.