Now playing: screen dance

TWU alumna YeaJean Choi and JongHwa Lee depict the coming-together of cyborgs and humans in
TWU alumna YeaJean Choi and JongHwa Lee depict the coming-together of cyborgs and humans in "2043:YOU" from kNOwBOX dance. (Visionstyler Press)

April 4, 2023 – DENTON – Dance on screen has been around for as long as there have been movie cameras.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first short musical films with sound, and the first full-length motion picture with sound was a musical. Beginning in the 1930s, movies featuring dance and music were massively successful, making superstars of dancers and earning nine Academy Awards for best picture from 1929 to 1965.

Those golden-era musicals were big-budget films with elaborate setups and expensive equipment, but the advent of the camera phone in the last 20 years has made accessible the ability to easily record dance and music, and the concept of screen dance has built momentum in the last decade.

Not just recording a night at a club or a dance at a wedding or party. Not movies with dance, but movies about dance. Artistic movies, shot from different angles, with dancers forming different patterns, transcending and escaping the limits of a stage.

"The neat thing about screen dance is there are things you can do on the screen that you can't do on stage," said Jordan Fuchs, head of Texas Woman's University's division of dance. "Through an edit, you can go from being in this room to being outside. There's interesting things you could do if you rotate the camera or play things backwards. It can make the timing of movement really unusual and strange. There's opportunities you can explore on screen that you can't onstage. With screen dance, you can kind of distort movement or you can have a phrase continue through multiple dancers, but looking like it's all the same phrase across bodies. So there's a whole bunch of intriguing things you can kind of push."

Legendary director and choreographer Busby Berkeley would be proud.

Although TWU has been ahead of the curve, screen dance has increasingly entered college dance divisions.

"I think a lot of people got on board during the pandemic," Fuchs said. "The number of festivals available to submit work has exponentially increased. It's more than it's ever been."

"Especially here at TW, they're incorporating more how to make film or how to edit, how to choreograph to film," Texas Woman's dance graduate student Daniel Garcia said. "There's an opportunity to interact with it, so students are learning. A lot of universities are finding that screen dance is a thing now, and it's a way to show students work internationally."

Prior to coming to TWU in 2007, Fuchs worked at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in its dance division, where he became familiar with screen dance.

"When I came here, it was something that I was interested in and there were resources for it, but it wasn't really a part of the curriculum," he said. "I started this series called Breaking Windows, a dance film series in my second year here, 2008. I started doing screenings, I think on Friday afternoons, maybe one or two a semester, just to introduce this kind of work to students."

By 2012 there was sufficient interest that dance students began shooting experiential projects mentored by faculty. Around 2014, Fuchs began incorporating screen dance into coursework, and the master's curriculum includes site dance, which is outdoors, and screen dance.

"Now it's trickled down into the undergraduate choreography curriculum," Fuchs said. "The interest in integrating it into coursework developed during the pandemic because we couldn't dance face to face. That's where screen dance really came to the forefront so students could share their work. Our concerts, like that first spring of 2020, was an online concert of screen dance."

In fact, prospective Texas Woman's dance students have begun submitting screen dance in the admissions process.

Some TWU dance alumni have started digital dance companies. kNOwBOX dance was launched in 2021 by Martheya Nygaard and YeaJean Choi, "making art that challenged contemporary/modern dance aesthetics."

"It's based in Dallas, but YeaJean is based in Korea and they also have members in Mexico, so it's kind of like this international dance company," Fuchs said. "They started hosting a screen dance festival, and it's really big and they have people submitting work from all over the world."

This year, Garcia and fellow TWU graduate student Rebeca Gamborino started College Dance Film Fest for college students through the website Film Freeway. Their first screening was in February at Greater Denton Arms Council, and their next will be April 6 at 6 p.m. in TWU's Dance building, room 208.

"We created it to showcase college students who are interested in dance on film," Gamborino said. "We're the only dance film festival that just showcases college students, and we make our screenings free to enter, free to view."

"The only thing that we ask of the filmmakers is that it incorporates movement or dance," Garcia said. "We define dance as movement. It can be like ballet, it can be walking, gestural, it can be animation. As long as there's movement."

Gamborino and Garcia are working to get their festival available via streaming, but that involves infrastructure and making sure all music is free of copyright issues.

This spring's event drew 140 entries, which were reviewed by adjudicators. Thirty videos made the final cut.

"We're both screen-dance makers, so we know the struggle," Gamborino said. "I've submitted to several festivals and sometimes I get in and it's amazing, but sometimes I don't. For a first-time filmmaker, to get your work out there is really important because then the momentum starts happening."

That accessibility is an overriding theme throughout screen dance.

"It's been a really nice development," Fuchs said. "Screen dance is a fundamental part of the program. I think it's a strength of the program. It's an affordable and accessible way to get your work out there nationally and internationally and to be able to participate in contemporary dance anywhere on the planet."

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Page last updated 10:20 AM, April 4, 2023