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seeing anew

becky edmunds screen dance researching in argentina

Former choreographer and live artist Becky Edmunds makes and writes about dance film.

IN NOVEMBER OF 2006, I FOUND MYSELF IN AN EXTRAORDINARY PLACE. I WAS STANDING ON A DUSTY MOUNTAINSIDE IN NORTH WEST ARGENTINA, AND I WAS PRACTISING LOOKING. THERE WAS A HUGE VIEW AHEAD OF ME: LAYER UPON LAYER OF MOUNTAINS, THE FURTHEST PEAK CAPPED WITH SNOW. I WAS TINY, LIKE A SPECK OF DUST. THE SKY WAS FALLING AND AS I LOOKED, I FELT I WAS RISING AND NOTHING MATTERED. AND EVERYTHING MATTERED.

I could feel the wind on my skin, and hear the silence, and taste the salty tears that were suddenly running down my face. This was one moment in a month-long screen dance research period. I’ll rewind a bit and tell you how I got there.

Exactly one year earlier, I had visited the Festival Internacional de Videodanza de Buenos Aires, to teach a workshop and to present my work. On arriving back in the UK, I was offered the opportunity to return to Argentina on an Arts Council of England international research fellowship. The fellowship was supported by two organizations—South East Dance Agency based in Brighton, England (my home town), and VideoDanza BA in Argentina. They decided to extend the project by offering research time to two Argentinean artists, filmmaker Alejandro Areal Velez and choreographer Sophia Mazza, who both worked on separate research projects. We all came together to share our experiences during the 2006 Videodanza festival in Buenos Aires (Nov 28-Dec 3). These discussions were mentored by Brighton-based screen dance artist Magali Charrier.

At the outset I was asked to write a statement of intent regarding the parameters of the research and it seemed vital that I should engage with something in Argentina that I could not have access to in the UK. Coming from the cluttered and crowded environment of South East England, I proposed going to the huge, open, empty spaces of Argentina. I wanted to explore the possibility that my own creativity could be affected by unfamiliar textures, colours and scale, and that my own sense of real space and time, and recorded space and time, could be influenced by the geographical space that I work in. This was the starting point from which I wanted to explore a sense of the macro and micro, in terms of landscape, body in landscape and movement in relation to distance. This is how I found myself on this incredible mountainside.

Silvina Szperling, director of the Videodanza Festival, found me two perfect travelling companions—photographer Alejo Schatzky and dancer/videomaker Paula Zacharias, and together we travelled through salt fields, across mountains, through forests of giant cacti, over vast plains and past enormous, crumbling glaciers.

Some of the research that I undertook investigated my physicality in relation to the environment, and how awareness of it could affect my camera practice. My interest in combining video and dance practice is informed by a physical curiosity. I had questions regarding vision and habits of looking. How long can I look before I look for something, before I make judgements based on taste and aesthetics? By paying attention to my looking, will I see more? Will I see differently?

Then I found myself searching for the work that was specific to each particular environment. Dance (in its formal and theatrical sense) can seem inappropriate when placed within a non-theatrical setting. Yet in some spaces, we would chance upon happy accidents, when Paula would move and the light and the heat and the dust and the camera settings would combine with that movement to create dances in which the lines between the body and its surrounding environment became porous.

The movement that I requested from Paula was based around quite practical tasks. For example, “Move the dust with your feet and hands”, and Paula would interpret as she saw fit. Now I have this material in an edit suite, I find that the answer to my questions to do with placing the dancing body in a landscape is to remove the body entirely, and just leave the dust mysteriously lifting and falling. I look at footage of Alejo swimming in a roadside pool. I made a choice to shoot it out of focus. It looks smudged and although it is clear that something is disturbing the landscape, it is impossible to identify exactly what landscape and what is disturbing it. Instead we see an abstract dance of colours and flecks of light.

It remains a puzzle to me—the invention and placing of dance in the landscape—yet I am interested in some of the footage that resulted from the attempt to solve the puzzle for myself. I hope that the footage will be showing up in some form at screen dance festivals in 2007.

On returning to Buenos Aires, it became clear that Alejandro, Sophia and I had all approached this question of research in very different ways. Alejandro had set up a video shoot in order to explore questions of “connection and disconnection” in human relationships. He will edit his footage into a 12 minute film. Sophia was working with filmmaker Cayetana Vidal to explore a narrative they had invented that was set in a swimming pool. We found ourselves discussing the nature of research. How do you know when you have stopped researching and started doing something else? When does that ‘something else’ become ‘production’?

Maybe in an ideal world we could all place our work in the context of research, all of the time, in order to give ourselves the safety net of failure. On the occasions that I have not named my work ‘research’ I can find myself disappointed by the outcome. I take fewer risks, because of my perceived need to succeed, and therefore the work can fail to surprise or delight me.

Our conversations spilled out into the public domain of the festival, as all three of us were asked to make presentations on the work that we had undertaken. I realised that it is rare to have showings of work in progress or discussions regarding research or process at screen dance events, although these are common within live dance contexts. In screen dance it can all seem set and final. Done and dusted.

The value of a trip such as this is clear—if art imitates life, then it is essential that artists have a life for their art to imitate.

If you engage with travel, you will arrive.
Ibn Arabi


To view an online blog from the artists and organisers of this project visit http://southeastdance-buenosaires.blogspot.com/

Former choreographer and live artist Becky Edmunds makes and writes about dance film.

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 36

© Becky Edmunds; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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