Party Animal (a screen dance film)
Beach Party Animal is a screen dance film commissioned by South East Dance (£13K), (supported by Esmee Fairbairn and Jerwood), with additional production funding from Arts Council (£4970K) and research and dissemination funding from the University of Brighton’s Faculty Research Support Fund (£4125).
Screen dance is a form of research that examines the interrelationships of composition, choreographic language, and meanings of body, movement, space and time within the context of contemporary cultural debates about artistic agency, practice as theory and interdisciplinarity.
(Rosenberg, D. & Kappenberg, C. International Journal of Screendance Spring 2010 Vol.1)
Beach Party Animal, shot on location on Brighton seafront, is an anthropological investigation of human behaviour animated through the interdisciplinary practice of screen dance that considers the zoomorphic qualities innate in human movement and repositions the documentary in relationship to screen dance film-making as a means to develop new pathways for creating original screen materials.
Beach Party Animal is visually contextualized and inspired by; the exceptional formal framing in Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegrantes, the cinematic documentary camera of Ron Fricke’s Baraka that roams stunning locations ‘chancing’ on ‘life as it is’ and exploits time through the natural and technological, and the gritty realism, character and humour of Michael Hodges Pulp.
Additionally the variations in current conceptual frameworks informs and contextualizes both my live and interdisciplinary research practices as follows: the contemporary conceptual European progressions in choreography and developments as pioneered by such artists as La Ribot, Xavier Le Roy, Jonathan Burrowes, Meg Stuart, and specifically within screen-dance practice the appropriation of archive material to reinvent other screen dance concepts as in David Hinton’s Birds, and Snow a David Hinton / Rosie Lee collaboration. These frameworks challenge the conventions and support the development of dance by creating mobile borders and contexts to reinvigorate the art form, to interrogate ‘truth’ and widen understanding of what dance can be and it is these progressions that inform this research practice for Beach Party Animal.
In Snow….. the ‘historical’ is detached from its original context, losing a sense of circumstance or narrative, and is embedded instead within a new structure, an accumulation built on formal qualities such as similar rhythms and corresponding shapes. This sort of work is typical for work that appropriates existing material. It causes a shift of meaning that is located within the image to meaning that is created by the new series and the new context.
(Kappenberg, C. The logic of Copy, From Appropriation to Choreography, The international Journal of Screendance Spring 2010 Vol.1)
This project asked the following research questions:
1. How can we develop longer narrative-driven conventions in screen dance beyond the four-minute form?
2. How can we develop a dance language that some may not even feature “dance” as is generally defined, but contain a powerful sense of how movement unfurls in time and how can we create meaning from the dance of images?
3. How can we contribute to sustaining and developing screen dance as an art form, find new insights, and create examples of best practice?
5. What are the problems inherent in this interdisciplinary practice? How can we resolve them?
6. What kind of visual and aural resource do we need to develop for this project?
7. How can mise-en-scene be explored to its greatest effect to find depth of structure, and how can we ‘bend’ time through choreographic performance ideas?
8. How does one develop an insightful resource and archive that makes an informed analysis from initial treatment to final product and documents all the stages?
9. Through performance-led research, how can we create a critical space for repetition, debate and critique for an academic, student and public audience, in order to create a commentary on contemporary frameworks of learning?
This project’s research ambitions are to develop beyond previous screen dance research and its associated methodologies. Previously this entailed; creating a prescribed narrative, developing the concept through creative writing, developing choreography for body and camera in the studio, exploiting the power of the camera and edit to create a physical spectacle, a ‘spectacular’ body and screen dance subject and working to a guide track or pre composed music to form dynamic time lines in anticipation of the edit.
Research methodologies for Beach Party Animal embraced a ‘chaotic’ choreographic time and space that avoided studio research, development and rehearsal, and exploited chance and improvisation, choreography by accumulation, guerrilla filming and choreographic ‘plants’ (like Herzog a guerrilla style allows the ‘plants’ to work around the public). Replacing complex rehearsed material with a rigour of fast tasking and decision-making created a swiftness and ‘lightness of touch’. Reappraising the video production apparatus and its attendant crew in favour of the ‘ silent and still’ camera whilst determining an appropriate exterior space to re-inform art direction and visuality allowed the research to develop.
In keeping with current conceptual and research concerns that question the nature of dance and the premis of the dancer as ‘a kinetic subject always moving, apparently without effort, always energized and never stumbling’ (Exhausting Dance Lepecki, A.), Beach Party Animal leant towards the spectacular in realism, the extraordinariness of the everyday gesture, the happy accident, visibility in the invisible, and explored ways to discriminate the real from the un-real, true from the un-true, fiction from non-fiction.
Since 2006 my research has been conceptually rooted in the following; guerrilla performance tactics and interventions (Guerrilla Dances 2008): the juxtaposition of factual realities that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction and provide humorous interplay between faux archive concepts (Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage 2008/9): devising fresh choreographic mixed fiction approaches and dance vocabularies for screen dance (Diva 2006/7): giving the ‘viewer’ an active position from which to engage and find challenges (Survival Tactics 2010): writing a faux archive screen dance documentary/mockumentary called Marjorie Irvine 2010.
Subsequently, Beach Party Animal, shifted towards developing a documentary screen dance, ‘a creative treatment of actuality’ (Grierson), ‘life as it is’ / life filmed surreptitiously / ‘life caught unawares’ / life provoked or surprised by the camera, Cinema Verite ( Dziga Vertov), dramatic factual film (Pare Lorentz), a documents or observervation of some aspect of reality. Combining naturalistic techniques with stylized cinematic devices of editing and camerawork, staged set-ups, and the use of the camera to provoke subjects, this documentary screen dance is an observational piece and as result is circumspect with truth, using dramatic editing and appropriated footage to sway the audience and lend credibility and blur the lines between truth and fiction.
Exploiting these documentary concepts within Beach Party Animal challenges passive spectatorship and the implied authority of appropriated dance material and proposes an alternative that dresses ‘lies and deceit’ (a fiction) in an ‘authentic’ framework (the documentary), in order to pioneer innovative, conceptual dance practice that challenges the audiences to actively and critically engage.
In much the same way as Hinton/Lee screen dance Snow, and Jerome Bel’s live dance performance ‘Wandlung 1978', this research sets out to appropriate and document the readymade ‘archive’ that pre-exists within everyday life and place it in juxtaposition with choreographic ‘plants’. Like Duchamps ‘Readymades’, this research looks to relocate the found and re-present it as art within the context of screen dance. Similarly to the conceptual dance world of Jerome Bel, the audience is invited to consider the entirely obvious and absolutely extraordinary, sculpted through time where nothing happens and what is commonly taken for nothing becomes extraordinary.
Each of his (Bel’s) performances – which combine their formal obsessiveness with wry and dry humour – are governed by the most part by the observance of a simple rule, task or idea…through the dramaturgical exploitation of the simple limits he sets up. Bel pushes us to look again and again at the things which we have forgotten how to see: their expectations logic and construction. And time perhaps; we get to see time.
(Tim Etchells 2008)
Beach Party Animal required a lightweight liberating apparatus that did not draw attention to itself, with capability of producing exceptional quality of 35 mm, and with an inbuilt invisibility factor (film cameras tend to attract crowds, still cameras equate as tourist trappings and are largely ignored), no crew, no artificial lighting or portable generator requirements, no cordoning off and controlling areas, a swift and convenient lightness of touch that allows the space to be inhabited rather than treated as location. The Canon Eos 5D Mark 11 gave such flexible freedoms.
In considering location, each exterior space was treated as a formally framed proscenium stage for each individually sited performer. Each subject, whether guerrilla or choreographed intervention was a soloist. This method of capturing material required the camera to indulge in ‘long’ takes, in order to encapsulate the whole event as continuous space and real time. A similar example exists in David Woodberry’s Invisible Dance 1981 where his ‘dance’ is found as bursts of activity amongst the flow of the everyday and public. Andre Bazin (French film theorist) discusses such use of real time and space. Through this implied realism, the audience becomes a participating agent, colluding and being challenged by incongruities whilst forming a watchfulness alongside the camera. Each ‘reality’ is a narrative strung together on a linear timeline. The camera is objective to the ‘planted’ action and cast as observer. Created from and through acts of voyeurism, the formal framing implies consensual agreement.
The ‘shooting’ process attended to; formal cinematic framing: avoiding clutter or pre-empting the next shot: scheduling extensive production time - shooting from 5 a.m. to midnight over four weeks - not a luxury but a necessity to the process: collapsing pre production into production as a simultaneous working method: being mindful to the variations of tide times, weather and natural light: viewing material on daily basis and discarding ruthlessly: avoiding or repositioning clichés.
This choreographic process explored multiple research questions:
1. What kind of guerrilla dance ‘choreographies’ are we seeking and how do we know when we find it?
2. How can we capture and frame guerrilla and choreographic ‘plants’ unnoticed?
3. How can we juxtapose guerrilla choreographies with choreographic plants in the final edit?
4. Are the raw materials of the guerrilla dancers better guides for reality than their fictional counterparts in interpreting the world?
5. How do we create a dramatic narratives and a structure from multiple unscripted narratives and choreographic accumulations?
The research methodologies were as follows:
1. Choreographed plants: In order to generate physical material, clear tasks were given to the performers who were cast for their ability to be active agents within the process of developing interventions. A discrete visual theme was embedded. The tasks were specific to their skills and the chosen locations. There was no rehearsal to create the dance, movement, physicality, gesture and expressive material that could embrace specific underlying aural, soundscape, musicality and dynamics. These interventions are fragmented, unfinished interruptions manifesting an interior ‘world’ and performed neither to camera nor audience. (Shot length 2-5 mins).
2. Guerrilla filming: using a ‘dancerly’ eye to capture the innate dance, was a waiting game that involved being attentive to potential, potent, imminent, immediate, musicality, through the rhythmic punctuation, dynamics and on-going choreography and composition of the observed. Collected through accumulation, whilst observing ethical considerations this capturing attended to invisibility and framing. Permissions, insurance, public liability and release obtained. (Shot length up to 10 mins.).
3. Dynamic interventions (movement passing through frame) were accumulated and constructed from fragments collected and filed for reference link shots or to generate pace into the edit. (Shot length 3-30 secs)
4. Smudges/extras: without any need to cast ‘smudges’, it fell to using incidental pedestrian public activity as dynamic passengers to the staged shots.
5. Inanimate objects: using objects as subjects in a locked off shot, the space was punctuated by bodies or movement within the location.
In past practices, the choreography was dominated by music or guide tracks i.e. specific metronome beats, or dynamic structures to inform the edit.
The choreography (for Motion Control) was developed alongside as verbal click track. As the performer I accompanied myself in rehearsal by creating my own dynamic vocal score which was recorded to act as music: I shouted, slurped, sloshed, tutted, barked, whispered and whistled, breathed loudly and excessively and generally created a very odd cacophonous accompaniment. This recorded verbal rack was used during rehearsal and the shoot, ensuring the choreography could be repeated exactly for camera.
(Aggiss. L Take 7 – Study Pack for students and teachers learning about making screen dance. Pub South East Dance)
In Beach Party Animal the strategy proposed that each choreographic ‘plant’ or guerrilla choreography was created or selected on its potential for rhythmic musicality, and the selected composer would ‘write to picture’. Alan Boorman (formerly MAVA) as an eclectic composer and sound designer working in broadcast projects, from short film scores to TV theme tunes and promos, and writing and producing for Wevie Stonder, BBC 1 & 3, commissions for sound art pieces, remixes and sound tracks for theatre, dance and gallery installations, was invited to undertake the work. With an eclectic, informal risky and absurdist expressive approach, Boorman can deliver to a high specification and quality. See http://www.weviestonder.com/ and http://www.wevie.tv/.
This project was initiated with the regular film roles in mind: Director, DoP, Editor etc. However as the research developed and with a crew reduction befitting the research to Aggiss and Murray, there could no longer be hierarchical divisions. The process was formalized as an artistic collaboration, authoring each production shot and post production edit by agreement and with clear reference to concept, rules, principles, composition and aesthetics to complete this research journey.
Anyway, back to this year’s: the seafront remained a place of respite from the town centre madness (at least, it was fine if you ignored the mooning boys and staggeringly high-heeled girls tripping over on the pebbles), and I was delighted to make it down to the arches for a second viewing of Liz Aggiss and Joe Murray’s very wonderful film, Beach Party Animal, a documentary-cum-performance-to camera work commissioned by South East Dance which was showing right through the night.
Beach Party Animal is rather in the tradition of the City Symphony films of Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov – a very artful and cunning mix of staged set-pieces and real-life action, so deftly edited that unless you are in the know and spot the performers, it is hard to distinguish the plants from the real-live city folk, this being Brighton many of whom are of course completely bats and 24/7 performers anyway. And the plants – the likes of Tim Crouch as a wildman harpoonist, racing butt naked into the sea, and the Two Wrongies as girls who’ve had one over the odds and are trying to work their way through, over, and under promenade railings, bandstand, children’s paddling pool, and sea-groynes in killer heels and skirts showing what they had for breakfast, as my dear Irish mother would say – are in fact also genuine real-life loony Brighton city folk, so who knows how we distinguish the ‘real’ from the ‘fictional’ anyway.
Liz Aggiss and Joe Murray are both established film-makers, and a married couple – yet this is their first joint venture (to my knowledge, anyway). Her on-film choreographic talent for the artful arrangement of both objects and bodies has shown itself in many of her previous ‘dance screen’ works, many of which fall broadly into the Expressionist camp. Here, in tandem with Joe Murray, she moves away from Expressionism into a crisper and sharper Hyperrealism. Aggiss and Murray apparently spent many, many weeks filming on Brighton beach at all hours of the day and night. Hours and hours of footage are distilled down into a 20-minute film that is an homage to the city that never sleeps (unless it’s face down on a sodden handbag, or comatose and sun-bleached like a beached whale on the pebbles). The camerawork is beautiful, with glorious shots of dozy carousel minders, screaming end-of-the-pier Big Wheel riders, and late-night barbecue lighters, and the soundtrack (by Alan Boorman) is a cleverly manipulated mix that adds to the hyper-real feel.
The choice to show the film on the beach – in the very site it was created – is a touch of genius. The wind ruffling the screen adds to the surreal nature of the viewing. And the odd parallels of real and filmed action are entertaining and occasionally disturbing – giving the whole experience an extra layer of meaning is the sight of the on-screen late-night revelers mirrored in the passing across the screen in real-time of another bunch of late-night revelers – creating a kind of two-mirrors-placed-facing-each-other eternal corridor of action. Oh that someone had filmed the film with the live interventions! An exhilarating end to my White Night!
(Dorothy Max Prior - http://totaltheatrereview.com/blog/white-night-beach-party-animals)