Sunday, October 6, 2013

Body Stories: the choreography of FIVE DANCES

Reed Luplau (left) and Ryan Steele in FIVE DANCES

Body Stories:
the choreography of FIVE DANCES

by Melanie Greene

Limbs spiral around a quiet calm torso. Hands pierce the space like sharp blades. Movement is blanketed by silence…a silence that is suddenly broken by the vibrations of a cello. He moves. His eyes seem familiar. He does not appear to be dancing for someone. He is dancing for himself. He is comfortable in this movement. His long, straight leg follows an imaginary circle in space, rotating bone within sinew. The energy emitting from his toe sends his motion along a downward diagonal.

FIVE DANCES is a captivating tale of a young talented dancer and his journey into the contemporary dance world in New York City. Directed by Alan Brown and choreographed by Jonah Bokaer, this film stars Ryan Steele, Reed Luplau, Catherine Miller, Kimiye Corwin and Luke Murphy. While I could talk at length about the cohesion of this film in terms character development, location aesthetic, and overall story, my interest lies within the composition of Bokaer‘s choreography and its impact on the overall story.

Bokaer is an internationally known choreographer and media artist. Through his cross-disciplinary work and social enterprise, he has made a unique impression on the dance world and worked with many artists including Merce Cunningham, David Gordon, and Deborah Hay. As a young choreographer, his accomplishments are impressive and his artistic vision—inspiring.

Ryan Steele in FIVE DANCES

FIVE DANCES tackles a traditional tale of a young dancer, Chip, portrayed by Steele, and his transition as a professional dancer in New York. Tethered to events occurring in his home state of Kansas, Chip must weigh his responsibility to his family and his responsibility to his career. Joining a small company in the city, his talent and determination couple with his innocence to generate a series of firsts. You will fall instantly in love with this character through his innocence and drive. His work ethic radiates through his range and capacity as a mover. There is something familiar about his character, and his history and hardships genuinely radiate from his eyes and into the execution of his movement.

Brown shot most of the film in and around an intimate dance studio in Soho. As the story builds around Chip and his four cast mates, the film takes on a ritualistic nature as their relationships build around the routine of their rehearsals. Movement becomes a true narrative of this film. Conversations through movement reveal the smallest, yet sometimes most important details.

Every now and then, city life seeps into their world as sounds and conversations hint at subway stops and cross streets. And while we are invited into the dancers’ life outside the studio, we receive the most information inside the studio.

Light pours in from the studio windows, warming the space and casting shadows along the periphery. The repetition of choreography throughout the films creates space for the audience to admire the personal and professional chemistry of the quintet. Bokaer's choreography adds richness to the story that illustrates a true sense of awareness and consideration by the characters. The dancers, and particularly Chip, negotiate the complexities inherent to the contemporary dance world.

I was captivated by how the actors negotiate breath, fluidity, and control within their movement palette. A similar fluidity guides the tension and release of their personal connections. Steele performs Bokaer’s choreography beautifully. The choreography feels strongly rooted in ballet technique, but defiant limbs, articulated torsos, and bare feet make it reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s aesthetic.

While the repetition the core movement throughout this film became tedious at times for me, it allowed the story to develop in a captivating way. It created space to reveal the possibilities of the movement through camera angels and timing.

Captivating in its minimalism, FIVE DANCES is an enjoyable story told through movement. Although it is a familiar story, its artistic composition requires the audience to approach this content with different considerations and engagement.

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