Move to Move
By Gracia Haby
Move to Move
Nederlands Dans Theater captured live in HD
Directed by Jeff Tudor
Left Right Left Right
Choreography Alexander Ekman
Choreography Sol León and Paul Lightfoot
Choreography Ohad Naharin
Shine a Light
Choreography Sol León and Paul Lightfoot
‘Muscular preambles ripple beneath the skin. Shadows shift, tremble, hesitate. Something is being decided. A breeze of emotion underlines the mouth with clouds. The orography of the face vacillates. Seismic shocks begin. Capillary wrinkles try to split the fault. A wave carries them away. Crescendo. A muscle bridles. The lip is laced with tics like a theatre curtain. Everything is movement, imbalance, crisis.’
—(One of the great silent film directors) Jean Epstein (1897-1953)
Louise Brooks (1906-1985), Mary Pickford (1892-1979), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (1885-1955), Lingyu Ruan (1910-1935), Léon Mathot (1886-1968), and Lon Chaney (1883-1930). Those silent film stars, they were amazing.
Buster Keaton (1895-1966), Gina Manès (1893-1989), Lillian Gish (1896-1993), Edmond Van Daële (1884-1960), Max Linder (1883-1925), Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), and Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926)—The things they could convey but with an expression. Their faces impart an intensely iconographic boldness that can make you uncomfortable. Think of those villains or those in peril with eyes wide, looming large before you; they are almost unreal.
There is a link between silent film and dance: expression. It was Alfred Hitchcock who said that the silent cinema was the purest form of acting, and Nederlands Dans Theater house choreographer Paul Lightfoot agrees. ‘Everything must be done without words. When you see those old movies now, you can actually understand them as choreography,’ he explains. The way those actors are capable of acting without words, using only their faces, their expression, their bodies, is just like choreography, like dance. Silent film seems a good way to introduce Move to Move, a film that features four ballets Left Right Left Right, Silent Screen, Secus, and Shine a Light in performance at the Lucent Theatre in Den Haag and shot specifically in high definition for the silver screen.
There are many links that tie these ballets and Hitchcock and silent film together, by way of a child’s nightmares (as explored in Shine a Light), and a look at how we move or could move from one place to the next (in Left Right Left Right). It was this and more which I saw “live” one Sunday at Carlton’s Cinema Nova watching NDT1 (the main company founded in 1959, and under the artistic direction of the aptly named Paul Lightfoot) and the younger company, NDT2 (founded in 1978, and under the artistic direction of Gerald Tibbs).
Whilst a film of a performance is second, some could and do say, to the thrill of live performance, there is still much beauty to immerse oneself in, head first, eyes open. There would be no other way of me seeing this performance if not for film. Films of operas, ballets, and plays, allow you to be transported. While I might prefer to see Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses (Die großen blauen Pferde was painted in 1911 and is currently in the collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) in person on the wall, looking at a printed version is better than not at all. This is how I used to feel about ballet shown as film: a good compromise. Compromise tied to an essentially affordable ticket price (though a little more than conventional cinema screenings). But Move to Move is more than that, and, to my mind, it is a film in its own right. It exists for more than this.
With six cameras in place to record every muscle twitch, confrontational gaze, and incredible contortion, seeing a performance in this way really does enable you to see all that normally you could not. Every subtle or otherwise movement is magnified, heightening the emotional intensity. It features behind-the-scenes footage of the stage being prepared and the dancers limbering up. It shows patrons checking in their bulky coats at the cloakroom, too, as the crowd masses and theatre fills. This we see before the lights dim and the dancers take to the stage, and it simulates the pre-show buzz that live theatre embraces and encourages. (Many in the movie house on Sunday took this as a chance not to revel in the delicious anticipation but to talk to one another as they wolfed down popcorn. Perhaps, for them, it was too inviting a chance to pass up and they conversed freely as you’d expect were we actually in the theatre. Perhaps they just fancied themselves important.) Front of house and behind the curtain, we are privy to all areas, almost, and this makes for intoxicating fly-on-the-wall stuff. It reminds me of an “elephant- or tiger-cam” in a David Attenborough nature documentary. (Or 2009’s La Danse directed by Frederick Wiseman, which follows the production of seven ballets by the Paris Opera Ballet.) It offers a new entry point, this technique. We get to view the theatre fill, from the position of outsider, before being whisked back stage to view proceedings from a more intimate standing, as an insider. Choreographers and dancers introduce each piece to us, and us alone, it feels. This is no ordinary recording of a performance.
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