The Arthropologist

Have iPad, will watch: Why dance on screen is sometimes better than a live performance

Have iPad, will watch: Why dance on screen is sometimes better than a live performance

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Emily Blunt stars as dancer Elise Sellas in the romantic thriller "The Adjustment Bureau." Photo by Andrew Schwartz/© 2011 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
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"Sunday Again" by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, choreographed by Jo Strømgren Photo by Carina Musk Anderson
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Dance Interactive spans from 1930s dance pioneers to today's most exciting artists. Artists are, from left, Ted Shawn, Drew Jacoby, Cynthia Gregory, Savion Glover and Shantala Shivalingappa. Photos by, from left, Shapiro Studios, Kristi Pitsch, Jack Vartoogian, Len Irish and C.P. Satyajit
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"Entity" from Wayne McGregor | Random Dance Photo by Ravi Deprees
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"Sunday Again" by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, choreographed by Jo Strømgren Photo by Carina Musk Anderson
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"Sunday Again" by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, choreographed by Jo Strømgren Photo by Carina Musk Anderson
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"Sunday Again" by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, choreographed by Jo Strømgren Photo by Carina Musk Anderson
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News_Nancy_Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet_Sunday again
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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet eats up the screen in the new Matt Damon quasi-thriller The Adjustment Bureau. I'm not surprised, I've seen the company several times, and they never fail to impress.

I could have used more big-screen Cedar Lake dancing than those dull angel adjusters, but I appreciate the spirit of the idea. It's not a dance movie. Damon's love interest, the wonderful Emily Blunt, plays Elise, who just happens to be a dancer. Director George Nolfi specified Elise to actually be a Cedar Lake dancer.

"He knew of us and wanted to use us in the film," says the company's artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer. "He wanted a New York feel with real references." 

Pouffer created the main dancing sequence with the full glory of a big screen in mind. Its voluptuous contours fill the frame with sensuous dancing by his exquisitely trained troupe. "I had planned it that way, and am happy it didn't end up on the cutting room floor," Pouffer says. "It's a beautiful moment."

Cedar Lake,  which performs in Society for the Performing Arts IW Marks Dance Series Friday night at the Wortham Center, has had more hits to its website as a result of the movie, but it's been hard to measure.  "We look at it as a great promotion and opportunity for the company," says Pouffer. 

In the film there's a anxiety-evoking scene when Damon runs into a bar asking "Has anyone heard of Cedar Lake?" A moment of truth for any dance lover. The wait for someone to say "yes" seemed interminable.

"I loved it," quips Pouffer, who will be guest of honor at  the Spacetaker Cultured Cocktail event at Bar Boheme tonight at 6 p.m. "It was right for the film."

I tend to get excited when I see dance on any size screen; it's one of the ways the art form comes to us. With the right choreography, equipment and know-how, dance can look fantastic on a screen, whether it's at the multiplex, on television or an iPad. When Wayne McGregor choreographed Radiohead's Lotus Flower vid it was a good day for the field. Dance on any screen brings us closer to the experience, and is one of the ways it tethers itself to the culture because we are a screen-loving folk. 

I used to be of the mind that I would rather see a live dance performance rather than one on a screen any day. I no longer say that.

Sitting in a damp dance studio, watching a live simulcast of "A Jazz Happening" at Jacob's Pillow Dance proved the exact moment of my conversion. I had seen the show in rehearsal;  now I was seeing it on screen through the eyes of the renown dance videographer Nel Shelby. Details, moments I had missed and shifts in viewpoints made the choreography come to life.

This week, the National Medal of Arts-winning organization launched Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive, which lets you browse by era, artist or genre. You can stroll down dance history lane with Ted Shawn and his male dancers or watch Kyle Abraham in Inventing Pookie Jenkins, performed last summer. Warning: You can park here for hours. I know this because I had a chance to preview the site with Lisa Niedermeyer, Virtual Pillow's project manager. 

Marc Kirschner, founder of Tendu TV, has some insights on my big shift. "High-def solved some of the issues," says Kirschner, who has garnered press from the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post for his innovative venture. "Having dancers pick up cameras helped, too. Look at Trey McIntyre, he does much of his own shoots."

Kirschner's mission is to make dance accessible via the highest quality viewer experience. The two-year old operation positions itself on the forefront of new technology. New titles, available on iTunes, includes Wayne McGregor's Entity, The Hans Von Manon Festival and 40 Years of One Night Stands: The Story of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet. 

Move over Metropolitan Opera, Ballet in Cinema has joined the simulcast party with live performances of Coppelia this past March and Children of Paradise in July. Sadly, Houston is not on the participating theater list, but I imagine it's just a matter of time.  "Simulcast is a real game changer," adds Kirschner. 

YouTube, and and its snazzier cousin, Vimeo, have changed my life. It's a "have iPad will watch" situation. Right now, I can hop over to Dance Media and watch Behind the scenes with Erica Cornejo  or head to Dance Pulp to see what Annabelle Lopez Ochoa has to say about her work before I see it at Dance Salad Festival on April 21-23. I can follow conversations with a charming band of dance talkers at SkyNova, see what life is like for real dancers on Dance 212, browse Dance on Camera on Hulu or zone out on any number of dance TV shows.

And then there's the whole world of artists working in live performance and film simultaneously. Organizations like 3-Legged Dog media & theater group (3LD) are shifting the boundaries. "There are new technologies that make the live experience great, and new technologies that make the screening experience great, and 3LD/3D+ is investigating how the two can meet," says Kirschner. 

Locally, Lydia Hance ,of Frame Dance Productions, seamlessly switches between live and filmed performance. Her newest film, Satin Stitchcontains the same wistful energy as Crease, the film that wowed Miller Outdoor Theatre fans last fall at Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance

Most dance companies have YouTube channels, and the smart ones, like Dutch National Ballet, have video handy on their front page,  Houston Ballet's channel has some 776,616 upload views.

Let's not forget Black Swan, the movie that just won't quit giving me something to complain about. The Sarah Lane/ Natalie Portman controversy makes me want to have my own head replacement. Still, the fuss keeps the ballet buzz buzzing and probably is the most exciting dance event on a big screen to come down the pike in a while. 

Dance owns the screen like no other art form. There, I said it. Does this mean I am going to stay home tomorrow and watch Cedar Lake on my phone? Nah, but fun to know I could.

 

Watch Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet perform:

In this Hulu Dance on Camera, Dance Plus video Katrina McPherson & Simon Fildes cool Move me project lets the camera bring dance closer to us.