Suspended in dance

Floating in time: Modern dancer's improvisations are a perfect match for extreme slow-motion video

Floating in time: Modern dancer's improvisations are a perfect match for extreme slow-motion video

She spins, but just as the turn completes itself, time elongates, stretching into unseen territory. It's as if we are on a roller coaster winding the swerve of a fast curve. But then brakes come on, we hold on, kinetically joining the dancer in a delicious visceral experience.  Here, we experience the anatomy of the bend, in shape, time and velocity. We can feel it our bones.

When do we ever get to be this close to dance?

The second installment of Floating: Suspended in Dance takes us on  a kinetic ride at Discovery Green with Courtney D. Jones, a leading Houston choreographer and performer. Directed and edited by John Carrithers and produced by Douglas Newman of Mouth Watering Media/CultureMap Digital Services (MWM/CDS),  this video takes us to a more contemplative place that the previous piece with Houston Ballet's Melody Mennite. (MouthWatering Media is a partner in CultureMap.)

 “I love the otherworldly quality of the twinkling water droplets. They look like fireflies, ” Newman adds. “I wish we could say we planned this, but they were a gift from the camera.”

 When Newman first proposed this project about performing artists, he showed me an example of what 2,500 frames per second using a Phantom Flex camera looks like using famous tennis players whacking a ball. Power made visible became a possibility. “You need to get Courtney Jones,” I told Newman. If we are going to be watching movement that slow, it had better be interesting.

Once Jones began to improvise, all of us knew instantly we had made the right choice. “The intensity of the piece is undeniable, and I think that's due in large part to Courtney. When I went looking for a modern dancer for this series, I was immediately drawn to her... her power is palpable when you watch her dance,” says Newman. “It's a little odd that what strikes me most when watching the slo-mo video are Courtney's facial expressions.”

Carrithers found himself also in uncharter territory. “Courtney's shoot was a different animal. Melody would run through a few steps at a time that we talked through, while Courtney just danced and I had to chase her with the camera and pray I was keeping up and in focus,” confides Carrithers.

According to Carrithers, working with a situation where 30 seconds can expand to six minutes is an unwieldy process. It took him over 40 hours to edit the piece. Unlike ballet vocabulary, where the pinnacle of the movement is obvious, Jones' kinetic language took longer for Carrithers to parse. Once the filmmaker entered the rhythm of Jones' idiosyncratic phrasing, he was able to jump on her wave length.

“She's so dynamic,” he says. “Still, there's a peak to her movement, a sweet spot.”

A close-up shot with Jones looking off into the distance points to the project's heart, an examination of a performer's otherworldly experience. “She's somewhere else, in that creative place. She's not terrestrial in that moment,” muses Carrithers. “That's what this whole experiment was about, to catch a glimpse into those moments.”

 “She's somewhere else, in that creative place. She's not terrestrial in that moment,” muses Carrithers. “That's what this whole experiment was about, to catch a glimpse into those moments.”

 Much about the shoot surprised the film crew. “I was expecting the focus of these high speed dance videos to be the muscles... the vibrations from the shock of a landing... the brutal, almost violent shockwaves that pulse through the body,” says Newman. “I was pleasantly surprised by the serenity of the video, since I think that's what distinguishes these from a lot of the high speed experiments on the web.”

Just as Jones has us under her spell, a car rolls by in the background. “It jerks you back into reality, if only for a second,” says Newman.

Jones divides space in spiralic patterns, like a chain of DNA, continually unraveling and re-raveling itself. Curiously, Newman chose Doug Hollis' Mist Tree, a centerpiece of Sarofim Picnic Lawn, which he claims was a “happy accident.” She moves amidst a rain curtain created by eighty nozzles, which form a mist cloud in the bowl of the twisted stainless-steel sculpture. There's a sense that she's the rainmaker, causing the water to splatter outward.

“I love the otherworldly quality of the twinkling water droplets. They look like fireflies, ” Newman adds. “I wish we could say we planned this, but they were a gift from the camera.”

News_Suspended in Dance_Courtney D. Jones_March 2012
Courtney D. Jones in action Photo by Douglas Newman
News_Suspended in Dance_Courtney D. Jones_March 2012
Courtney D. Jones takes a peek behind the camera. Photo by Douglas Newman
News_Suspended in Dance_Courtney D. Jones_March 2012
News_Suspended in Dance_Courtney D. Jones_March 2012