Choreographer Adham Hafez is on a mission to revolutionize the perception of dance. In the future, viewers would think of dance not merely as synchronized routines on MTV or delicate pirouettes at the Opera House, but as a flexible art form that interacts with modern technology as seamlessly as drama or music.
Hafez runs HaRaKa, an Egyptian dance research program established in 2006, whose main focus is to bring contemporary dance to different non-theatrical settings as well as building critical awareness about dance through workshops, publications and open lectures.
One of their current projects is to explore and promote “Videodance, a genre that explores the infinite creative possibilities of recording dance on camera as opposed to performing it live on stage.
Both drama and music have long been released from the confines of theater and concert halls and have evolved into a countless number of nuanced art forms integrated with television, radio and Internet. The styles of dance change as often as the color of paint on a canvas or the tone of music in a symphony.
But why then doesn’t dance possess the same freedom of form or distribution?
Hafez blames poor education and the media’s one-dimensional portrayal of dance as the preserve of traditionally isolated circles or as a trivial compliment to popular music and drama. HaRaKa attempts to change those perceptions. If dance were to undergo its own technological revolution, it would be as common to watch and understand as films on DVD.
To promote its research, HaRaKa holds monthly screenings at the Townhouse Gallery to showcase dance films and documentaries that are relevant to their present focus.
This month, six short Videodance films made in Slovenia in the early 1990s were screened, curated by Barbara Borcic, the director of the Center for Contemporary Arts in Ljubljana. Whether each film is narrative-based or metaphorical, they all share a harshness that corresponds to the classic image of life in industrial and concrete-colored ex-Soviet satellite states.
Yet, despite their striking content, it became abundantly clear that HaRaKa was enticing the audience to take notice of the way in which the dance was presented rather than reflect upon any particular socio-political message.
The audience, used to seeing even the most basic techniques of TV and music, such as cutting, looping and fading, didn’t even notice it happening in the screened videos. The intervention of the director, editor and cameraman in Videodance, however, seems extremely foreign.
Sometimes it doesn’t even feel as though you are watching dance. “Icht, choreographed by Matjaz Faric and scripted and directed by Zemira Alajbegovic and Neven Korda, features entire scenes of narrative with no dialogue at all. At the beginning of “Pot/Path, directed by Saso Podgorsek and choreographed by Tanjat Zgonc, there is a grotesque image of a writhing, limbless torso surrounded by blackness. In “Tajga, scripted and directed by Ema Kugler, there are lengthy scenes of nothing but melting wax dogs and statuesque Slovenian breasts.
It’s quite challenging to define exactly where the dancing ended and the audio-visual art began. But ay, there’s the rub. Films aren’t analyzed in the same way. Dissecting elements of the film, from script and cinematography to direction and editing, is irrelevant when assessing those videos. The videos are rather regarded as single works of art than a collaborative effort of different disciplines.
The most beautiful scene of the evening was in “Vertigo Bird, directed by Saso Podgorsek. Set in a changing-room block outside a mine, three women, grimy and perspiring, are seen dancing in the deserted communal shower. At this point, a union between dance, screen and sound unfolded.
There was no music or speech and the pain of every scrape along the tiled floor would sting the ears of the audience. Lit only by natural light, the murky white room was at its bleakest. The camera remained static; a sharp angle took in the emptiness of a room designed for dozens of bodies, and when it zoomed in close, it was close enough to catch drops of sweat falling from dancing legs to the floor.
Herein lies the potential beauty of Videodance. It is the collaboration between director and choreographer, camera and dancer, audience and screen that is its quintessence. The artists decide together when to use the tools at their disposal and when specifically not to. In this way Videodance will transcend traditional forms and progress into its own arena.
HaRaKa uses Videodance to prove that the false perception of dance being simply bodies moving in rhythm is as naive as presuming that a play is just spoken words or that music is just the sound of instruments.