In the film, "Breath | Light | Stone," dancers move in and around an old limestone factory. The camera sometimes focuses on their shadows on a rusted wall, not the bodies themselves. The dancers work in pairs outside, with backdrops of greenery or rock quarries. The choreography is specially designed for the building, and dancers climb on scaffolding or decaying columns. The score slowly develops from minimal percussion — what sounds like distant clanks and chains dragged on floors — into a full arrangement. It builds toward a finish on a grassy field with synchronized floor work.
The movie was directed by Allen Hahn, Ryan Newman and Elizabeth Shea, the latter of whom choreographed the piece as well. Johnathan Snipes created the sounds and the score. All the elements matter — choreography, cinematography, site scouting, editing and audio — which makes it an ideal example of the hybrid genre of dance film.
"Dance on camera is different from just documenting a live performance," said Joy French, the director and founder of Bare Bait Dance, the local contemporary modern company.
As a field, dance film is still developing, she said. Artists are experimenting to find out what works on film versus live on a stage, or how to adapt a piece to the different (i.e., shorter) attention span of someone watching a screen versus an in-person performance.
"There are these questions that are intrinsic in the art form that sometimes filmmakers nail, and choreographers really find that interesting hybrid," she said.
The genre is the subject of Kinetoscope, a sixth-annual film festival at the Roxy Theater, arranged by Bare Bait Dance, the local contemporary modern company.
To Shea, an associate professor and director of contemporary dance at the University of Bloomington-Indiana, dance on film is all potential.
"The possibilities for seeing and staging movement become endless in the world of film. The three-dimensional world rips right open, and allows the viewer perspectives that range from an intimate to distant. I think too having spent my artistic life in an ephemeral art form (dance), I’m constantly awed at being able to view our collaborative work again, and again, and again," she wrote in an email.
She and her collaborators designed their piece specifically for the site, a "deserted limestone mill" in Bloomington.
Their dramaturge, Sarah Campbell, "researched the history of the limestone industry, as well as the geological history of the limestone itself. She also researched stories of families where members had worked at limestone mills, and we also visited a working mill in Ellettsville, Indiana," Shea wrote.
Hahn, who was in charge of lighting design, "detailed how the light moved and change at various times during the day, and as spring turned to summer," she wrote.
"I think different parts of the site began to speak to us in terms of what might have happened there, what sorts of human interactions took place. From there, I developed the choreography both at the site and in the studio," she wrote.
The piece progresses through different pairings of dancers, including solos to duos to larger groupings.
"It was important to us to build the story with smaller groups of performers before everyone came together. The dancers and I gradually began to spend more and more time rehearsing at the site, and that also changed things. The emotional impact of being in a place of such decayed beauty pulled our company together," she wrote.
This year, BBD opened the festival up to submissions, rather than curate it it from selections at Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema in Boulder.
From 86 submissions from around the world, they chose a program of 12, which will be shown in about a two-hour block with an intermission.
"We chose the 12 partially for their range of styles, and also I feel like the 12 really represented what makes screen-dance fun. It's this interdisciplinary work. It can't just be about amazing choreography. It has to also be about the location, and editing, and the concept and the themes and all that kinds of stuff," French said.
The styles vary from tango to voguing, contemporary modern to more physical theater or performance art. One common thread to her eye is the improvement in cinematography.
"In general, of the 86 films, the actual film work was all really strong, and that's a product of having nicer cameras available to all of us," she said.
She also noted that many of the films at the festival have strong incorporation of storytelling and subject matter.
In "Otherland," Elvin Elejandro Martinez combines documentary memoir with dance. He grew up in the Caribbean on an island so small that he felt like he "couldn't breathe" and "everything was taboo."
The discovery of voguing, the subculture of dance and fashion born in New York, was a gateway to coming out and discovering dance.
Not all narratives are serious ones. In "Pooling," dancer Marc Carrizo Vilarroig first appears as a 1980s-style cartoon. He leaps off a diving board into the water. He reappears as a live-action figure in a dry, graffiti'd pool. Courtesy of some CGI, his limbs have broken off from the fall. They reassemble, not unlike Thing from the Addams Family, and the reconstituted Vilarroig starts break-dancing.
Molly Stark-Ragsdale, a Missoula native, choreographed and directed "Alula," another piece set in an empty, aging building. She inter-cut images of massive flocks of birds; and cross-cut between different groups of dancers in different garb, an ability unique to film.
The qualities that are specific to film are another open to question to French: Does a particular piece exist only as a movie, or can it be adapted to the stage?
To Shea, it's an open one regarding her piece.
"Right I now, I see it existing solely as a film… but you never know," she wrote.