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One More Chance To See 40 North Dance Films

A dozen select shorts to screen this Friday

Dancer Ami Ipapo dancing in a box in

Credit: 40 North

Above: Dancer Ami Ipapo dancing in a box in "Little Ease [outside the box]."

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews the 40 North Selects, a curated night of dance films.

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"Strictly Ballroom" (1992)

"Pina" (2011)

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If you missed the inaugural 40 North Dance Film Festival last month, then you will have an opportunity to see highlights from the festival this Friday with 40 North Selects: A Curated Night of 2015 Official Selections.

If the term "dance film" makes you think of Gene Kelley and Fred Astaire or "Flashdance" and "Dirty Dancing," then 40 North Selects will explode your expectations with a collection of short films that push the envelope on how we define dance on film.

40 North Selects is a shortened version of the inaugural 40 North Festival. The festival received 49 submissions in the initial call and then narrowed that to 21 that were screened in two programs in August. 40 North Film Selects narrows the program to a dozen of the best and most diverse films.

Festival co-founder Chelsea Zeffiro said, “Dance film is a genre that is currently being explored and developed. There are so many components to look at when considering the two mediums being combined: choreography for camera, camera choreography, editing techniques, frame rate, etc. Sometimes with a dance film the final product is not dependent so much on the choreography but on the contrasting placement of the dancers in space through use of different angles and editing techniques. Using the frame as a stage as opposed to trying to film a dance made for the stage adds many layers to explore and opens this medium up to films like ‘Lullaby.’ When I saw ‘Lullaby,’ I thought it showed very beautifully and simply, a body moving or being moved through space - from one edge of the frame to another - in relation to natural and man-made elements.”

"Lullaby" is one of the films that prompts you to think about how you define dance, choreography, and film, which is why Blythe Barton programmed it. Barton is another of the co-founders and is a dancer/choreographer with her own company, Blythe Barton Dance. For Barton, a dance film is where “dance is the primary storytelling component. 'Lullaby' is an abstraction of this definition, using specific camera framing to highlight a moving body. Dance is now such an open term for movement performance and we hoped to capture a variety of styles in this festival.”

In the brilliant “Little Ease [outside the box]" dancer Ami Ipapo is filmed throwing her body against the confines of a box. The sounds of her physical exertion – her breathing and her body making contact with different surfaces - become the music track as the film cuts between her in the box and making the same movements in other locations. It’s a dance that can only exist on film and it’s breathtaking because cinematography and editing are seamlessly integrated into the choreography. Not surprisingly, Ipapo is also listed as the editor.

In selecting the films, Zeffiro said, “We were looking to showcase high-quality, innovative, thoughtfully made films with distinct attention to camera choreography. 40 North films were selected by a panel of four (Zeffiro, Barton, co-founder Rebecca Correia, and co-festival director Samantha Zauscher), who were or are still primarily dancers (some of whom have worked in film or art production); thus, we were all looking for films which displayed movement using the screen or frame as a stage rather than conventionally filming a stage or staged dance. We were also very interested in showing a breadth of dance and film techniques.”

Barton added, “We were also looking for an interest and the age old question of ‘What makes good art?’ I was drawn to the films that were beautifully captured with interesting camera movement and perspective. I also looked for the illusive ‘it’ factor that drew me in, eliciting a response from my heart, mind, or gut.”

The plan is to make 40 North Film Fest an annual event screening films at multiple venues, and to tour the Selects program.

“We will hopefully have several other showings, encouraging dance artists to create for the screen,” Barton said. “San Diego has such a lively and diverse dance community and film gives dance artists another medium for which to display their creativity and talent.”

Zeffiro said we’re at an exciting time for dance: “There have been some changes specific to our current age that have made dance film relevant and necessary to the maintenance and evolution of dance as an art form. The abundance and accessibility of technology and the rise of freelance work are among these changes. Classically, dance companies had a structure where everyone had their specific role and stuck to that role (i.e. dancers were dancers only, who worked under artistic directors and choreographers). The art form has become much more collaborative in recent years. Dancers are using the technologies available to them to further explore their art and practice. Companies are looking for multi-disciplinary, well-rounded artists. Another huge change in our society is that we participate in virtual community as much as or more than physical gatherings. Creating dance film that can be shared and proliferated online is an amazing way to get more people interested in an art form that can seem inaccessible or closed off at times. In this way, the dance community is hungry for collaboration and the evolution of dance is dependent on using the technology available to us to stay relevant.”

And that’s is precisely why we need a dance festival.

“Dance is a wholly ephemeral art form, it usually exists only in the moment between performer and audience member,” Barton said. “With film, dance can be captured to experience again and again, and the many artistic layers of film greatly multiply the ability for expression. Film also allows for dance to be shared with many more viewers than in a live audience. This festival provides a platform for dance and film artists to share their voices with the world, inspiring movers and filmmakers, alike, to explore new artistic ventures.”

The curated film night serves up an hour's worth of short films, craft beer, and food in the Art Produce Garden starting at 6 p.m this Friday.

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