Since I heard that two influential German artists in the twentieth century, choreographer Pina Bausch and film maker Wim Wenders would create a film Pina by harnessing new digital technologies, I had waited impatiently for the day to release the film. It was not only because, since the huge success of James Cameron’s Avator (2009), I had had a passionate interest in ways how to employ 3D technologies in dance works, but also because Bausch was a choreographer who had rarely employed digital media in her works, as far as I knew.

Unfortunately, just a few months before the film went into production, Bausch died of cancer. Wenders then almost abandoned the film since the film was initially aimed to project Bausch’s ways of seeing the world through her choreographies, so he thought that there was nothing he could do without her. However, he changed his mind to start on the film as he realised that the film means much to her company Wuppertal Tanztheatre and Bausch’s family in terms of expressing her presence in personal lives of her dancers as well as her artistic influence on them.

The film focuses on her dancers each of whom speaks about Bausch in voiceover and then shows their solo or group movement sequences within a range of Bausch’s works.  Café Müller, Rite Of Spring, Kontakthof and Full moon are filmed on the proscenium stage, but many of the performances are shot in outdoor locations including the suspended monorail in Wuppertal, a crossroad, a plant site, a cliff, a knoll, a riverside and so on. For example, a woman wearing pointe shoes performs in the front of the factory or a woman moves like a robot on the monorail where a man with fake long ears is seated. It was a shame that the film does not inform the titles of her choreographic works or even the names of the dancers, so I was not able to know which of Bausch’s works the dancers’ short movement clips are extracted from.

To talk about this film, I certainly should deal with a significant issue that the film brings up in the dance field, which is the 3D effect on dance performance. It was told that before Bausch died, Wenders decided to use 3D technologies for the film in agreement with Bausch. Getting inspiration from Catherine Owens’ and Mark Pellington’s 2007 concert documentary U2 3D, Wenders assured himself that 3D images could be more adequate than 2D images to convey the inner expression and dynamics of the human bodies in Bausch’s choreographies, only if the 3D is not used as a gimmick. From my point of view, in Pina the 3D works effectively to a certain extent. The judicious use of the 3D provides the film with the depth of stage performance and makes viewers to feel overwhelming physicality. Nevertheless, I doubt whether 3D is fully capable to capture high speed motions since the edges of furious and energetic motions become dull in some scenes.

Furthermore, Pina leads me to raise some questions. Although Pina shows that 3D images can augment physicality in recorded representations, I do not think the 3D recorded version can substitute for the liveness of the original. It thus would be necessary to carefully consider what kind of liveness 3D technologies could produce, which would be distinct from that of live stage performance. I look forward to seeing how choreographers employ 3D technologies in more diverse and experimental ways.

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In the end of June the Postgraduate students and staff from the DFT department were invited to share a collaboration experience guided by the Map Consortium crew. The workshop was part of the Research Skills through Collaboration project of the department and supported by the University of Surrey. Curated by the Dance Lecture Jennifer Jackson, since 2009 the series has been providing different opportunities for the current postgraduate scholars and practitioners in performance from the University of Surrey to explore interdisciplinary collaborative skills and develop creative and innovative approaches to research. The second edition of “Point: Counterpoint”  was a day of experiments aiming to investigate the creative dialogue between movement, sound and film.

The group of collaborators was composed of dance, film and music staff and students including external guests. Inside the brand new Ivy Performing Arts Centre the hands-in workshop was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. It started off with an introduction to the work leaving each participant with the curious thoughts of what was really going to happen. We were invited to understand and explore different approaches into collaborative composition of interdisciplinary art pieces.

Going through the exercises proposed by the facilitators, it was interesting to notice the way in which the gaze and imagination of each one transformed the view and imagination of the other in a constant feedback process. Together we realized how each person can change and influence on what the other is thinking and doing and how collaboration can change the pathways of the work and can reach unexpected results.

Different than most (and usual) collaborations in which one person has an idea and selects other disciplinary experts to join in with their know-how, all activities proposed in the workshop involved the beginning of a new idea by each team. Although this approach is seldom explored it provides the collaborative partners an enhanced fertile ground on which to work on.

The afternoon was set for a single exercise where we were to create a collaborative performance from the scratch. There was no fixed style to be followed. The only requirement was that the whole group should be involved in all stages of the process.  We worked together with enthusiasm till the performance time. In the end of the day we were able to discuss the process and results of each work presented.

Although my current PhD research does not involve collaboration, this workshop was extremely important to enlighten creative approaches into my own thinking. Regardless that it was only a small taste of the numberless possibilities of collaboration, it was interesting to learn (and live through) that many times we anticipate and struggle to know everything that is going to happen from the start of a process. However this can kill opportunities, creative methods and possible outcomes. On this workshop we were given a chance to ease our anxiety and let ourselves take the risk and discover the beauty and richness of the unknown, something that we tend to instantly rush through in our daily research lives.

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I’ve just returned from a trip to the east coast US.  The main purpose of the visit was to attend  Visible Evidence http://www.visibleevidence.org/, an annual perambulatory international conference on documentary and non-fiction media.  This year our host was New York University (NYU) and there was the usual rich variety of papers, workshops, screenings and presentations from theorists, practitioners and educators.

While I was in the city, I took the opportunity to see Punchdrunk’s production of Sleep No More (http://sleepnomorenyc.com/), a site-specific piece of theatre/ performance that’s running in the old, vast McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea.  The piece heavily references Shakespeare’s Macbeth with some strong allusions to Hitchcock (Jimmy Stewart’s search for Madeleine/ Carlotta in Vertigo, for example, takes him to the McKittrick hotel in San Francisco) and is an extraordinarily immersive, dynamic experience.  The portal to the performance is a 1930’s era bar, where the audience sips cocktails before donning white masks and being whisked away in an elevator, from which we were ejected onto different floors of the hotel.  We were instructed not to remove our masks, not to speak and advised that ‘fortune favours the brave’ before being let loose to roam the mysterious hotel in which a half-dozen performers enact a series of intertwining, choreographed and mostly silent narratives, seemingly oblivious to us interlopers.

Sleep No More is described as an ‘individual experience’ as you are free to interact with the space and the performances taking place however you choose.  I opted to stick close to one actor (once I figured out he was ‘Macbeth’), which involved much dashing up and down narrow staircases and through the spaces of the McKittrick, often in a big crowd of other ‘spectators’, as he traversed through a ballroom scene, a witches’ coven-turned-ritual accompanied by pounding techno and strobe lighting, some dramatic contretemps with a feisty female counterpart (Lady Macbeth?), a moment of crisis amongst fir trees (Birnam Wood?), ending in a dramatic ‘Last Supper’ style finale.  There are a multitude of potential experiences of Sleep No More, depending on which actor(s) you follow, whether you are one of the lucky few to experience one of the ‘one-on-ones’ interspersed throughout the show, or whether you choose to avoid the action and wander the many spaces of the hotel.

One common experience, however, is the sense of voyeurism and this is another way Sleep No More references the films of Hitchcock.  As you stand watching the performers you cannot ignore the anonymised masked faces of your fellow spectators, crowding round to get a glimpse of the action.  The audience and actors share the same space, yet we are at once visible and invisible in a way that challenges the conventional theatrical/ cinematic experience of viewing from a distance through the proscenium arch of the stage/ screen.

I hear rumours the producers are looking for a suitable location to bring the show to London, but if you happen to be in New York City I recommend a visit to the McKittrick hotel, just don’t forget a pair of comfortable shoes.  And your sense of adventure.

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Last month I went to the UK Green Film Festival at the Shortwave cinema in London as part of research for my book on Green Documentary. The festival has been founded by Chris Brown and John Long, is supported by a property developer GVA, Friends of the Earth, and Environment Films, and takes place in Leeds, Cardiff and Glasgow as well as in London.

I turned up on the first night, without a ticket, expecting to find a largely empty cinema, as most eco-docs I go to see are watched by very small audiences. But here it was different. Two of the three screenings I attended, Michael Sternberg and David Osberberg’s The Plan and Werner Boote’s Plastic Planet were sold out, in fact, so I had to wait for returns. I didn’t mind the wait though, as not only were the films all worth seeing – I watched PlanEat directed by Shelley Lee Davis and Or Schlomi as well – they were also all followed by panel discussions which were even more interesting than the films.

Environmental film festivals, the first of which was founded in the 1970s, have been springing up at an accelerated rate worldwide since around 2000, encouraged even more by the global success of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. I have been looking at how the eco-doc has been evolving during this period towards the ‘bright green’ agenda of writers and commentators like Alex Steffen, author of Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. The message is that each one of us can discover a role to play in sustaining the earth and our life on it and the films reflect this pluralist, democratic approach by telling all kinds of stories about individuals who have been inspired to take up an environmentally relevant project.

My favourite individual story from the screenings was from The Plan about a descendent of Charles Darwin, somewhat cruelly given the nickname of ‘the missing link’ at school. He recovers from a near-death experience during an advertising stunt to buy a huge chunk of environmentally significant land in Australia in order to protect it against developers. He has connected with his ancestor by protecting some very dusty and rare species of shrub.

I gather the plan is to continue the festival next year. I’ll be getting my tickets in advance next time!

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Over the last week Dance, Film and Theatre hosted the Research Week. The department organizes twice a year five intensive days of lectures, conferences and workshops where PhD students and professors present the status of their research.

As it was my first Research Week I was excited to attend the expositions of my colleagues and to learn from their processes. I benefited as well from the feedback received on my presentation. Moreover I would say the Research Week is important to connect us, the researchers, to identify us as part of the same community of academics. Since there is no necessity to attend modules and classes, PhD students are often reading and writing alone. Each one has her/his own research, her/his own bibliography and her/his own outline for study; we all have different lives that bring us different choices. Nonetheless researchers of similar fields will have similar problems and different ways of resolving them. It is always worthy to see how other researchers have found a solution for a problem that can be yours in the future.

The Research Week is the place where all of this can happen. This is the moment to connect with our colleagues and share our knowledge. It is an opportunity to create a network of future academics that can make a difference to our PhD experience.

Over the last week I have enjoyed meeting other researchers in my field, and overall sharing our experiences. After this, I think the Research Week has been a successful encounter for all of us.

I am looking forward to attend the next one in November!

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