Dance Until You Drop: High-Kicking on Celluloid

As Nietzsche noted, “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” If still around, he might have added that watching a film or two on this most active of the arts a fine substitute.

And to make it easier for those of us who wish to honor Terpsichore by perching instead of pirouetting, The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Dance Films Association will for the 46th straight year screen full-length documentaries and shorts from 17 countries during Dance on Camera 46.

From American tap to Mexican acrobatics, from Marcel Marceau to Spike Jonze, and from Japan to Finland, visual treasures will be unearthed that will make you rethink every aspect of dance that you were once so sure about.

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A moment from “Bleeding and Burning.”

For example, “Bleeding and Burning,” a two-minute Canadian short directed by Guillaume Marin, in addition to causing you to ponder, supplies a pulsating finale that just might trigger a few seizures. Featuring the dancers Anabel Gagnon and Victoria Mackenzie — one fully garbed in red fabric from head to toe, the other in black — the duo sometimes encase each other when not bombarding their other half. Heavily edited with a pounding accompaniment, the film, the press notes claim, is “an eerie encounter between a malleable human form and a galaxy unknown.” I see a Middle-Eastern immigrant fighting for survival against a specter of death. Possibly the same conclusion.

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The Stopgap Dance Company breaks down the walls.

Stephen Featherstone’s 5-minute short, “Stopgap in Stop Motion,” highlights how a company that “employs both disabled and non-disabled artists [can] find innovative ways to collaborate.” Not unlike what The Apothetae brilliantly demonstrates with the current production of Teenage Dick at the Public Theater, the British Stopgap Dance Company accomplishes the same on both film and no doubt live.

Cleverly choreographed by Lucy Bennett, the film showcases black-and-white photographs of the troupe situated on a colorful office desk with its pens, pencil sharpener, and eraser. Suddenly the dancers come alive and let loose, eventually breaking out of the boundaries of the snapshots, an appropriate metaphor if there ever was one. Clearly, this work provides evidence that great art thrives on limitations, assumed or otherwise.

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Vincent Warren in

Marie Brodeur’s A Man of Dance (Un homme de danse) begins with Vincent Warren noting, “I love what Agnes de Mille used to say, ‘Dance is written on air.’” He might have added, noting his own career, “It’s also written with blood, sweat, and tears.”

Mr. Warren was born in Florida in 1938, the youngest of 14 children. At age 10, he saw The Red Shoes, and instantly became infatuated with ballet. He started a scrapbook on dance and began paying for his own lessons with an after-school job. He was not unexpectedly the only boy in the class. Then, in his teens, he eventually realized he did not fit into the macho culture he was born into so it was off to New York City to develop his talent and to be gay.

Warren soon became the poet Frank O’Hara’s lover, and remained so until O’Hara’s tragic death on Fire Island. With his world turned topsy-turvy, he eventually wound up with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, retired at age 40, became a renowned dance teacher, and later a highly recognized dance historian.

“Sometimes I meet people who remember me as a dancer. Maybe some old ladies. It’s something you have to accept,” Warren shared.

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Vincent Warren when he retired as a dancer in 1979.

A Man of Dance, which begins with Warren packing up his home in box after box, ends with him in his new, smaller abode with the physical remnants of his life more squeezed together.

Clearly articulating the joys and frustrations that accompany one’s career in dance, this biography spotlights the early aching of the joints, the lack of decent salaries, and the strains placed upon romance. It also asks why choreographers do not create pieces for older dancers.

Summing it all up, the grey-haired former star states, “We weren’t rich, but we were happy.” Sadly, Mr. Warren won’t be at Lincoln Center for the New York premiere of the documentary. He died in 2017, one year after the film was completed.

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Vincent Warren (center) in The Last Supper tableau from

Dance on Camera 46 runs from July 20 to the 24th. For more information and a full schedule, go to: https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/dance-on-camera-festival/

Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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