The camera-dancer dyad: a critical, practical dialogue of virtual and live studio methodologies

Nikolai, Jennifer
Bryant, Jan
Lavender, Larry
Jackson, Mark
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This research project constitutes studio-based inquiry into the benefits of dance collaborators using handheld, lightweight video cameras to develop ‘new’ methods of dance making. To uncover compositional openings, we tested various methods in studio workshops of dancers attaching cameras to their hands or bodies during improvisational tasks. We treated these connections as camera-dancer dyads, in the sense that the camera was seen as a collaborating partner of the dancer. The workshops were undertaken alongside written reflections and theoretical investigations, and were never considered as separate components of the research.

Over three workshop stages (2010-2012), the studio methodology created an emergent, camera dramaturgy in search of ‘new’ approaches to improvisation within a dancer/camera dyad. The multiple iterations of one task, an iterative task titled Bound Together, became central to studio investigations. Bound Together set certain conditions. We either connected two video cameras by tying them to each other, or we had two dancers bound by a Thera-Band who then operated the cameras. We held cameras and we bound them either to each other or to other dancing camera operators, in multiple variations. It was discovered that this relationship that binds and limits improvisational conditions, also opens a critical and practical dialogue towards the camera as a catalyst for dance and camera compositional processes. By shifting traditional or conventional ways the camera has been used by our discipline — as proscenium documenter, as archivist or as screendance maker — onto the camera as a witness-collaborator, we discovered new ways of seeing, within a process of becoming.

For Henri Bergson, followed by Gilles Deleuze, the new is bound up with a creative unrolling and cannot be conceived of outside duration. Throughout the life of the project, theories on time conceived by Bergson and Deleuze supported the reflections on time as duration, shaping the decision-making process. Time as duration contextualised the ongoing, iterative possibilities that arose out of shooting and reflecting, and led to emergent, dramaturgical inquisitiveness. These findings could not have been realised without dancers and camera operators experimenting in studio, through dialogical, emergent methods.

As camera practitioners, the dancers working on this research project adopted a playful engagement with mobile cameras. Experimental camera mobility utilised by dancers mid-improvisation was informed by the creative musings of Maya Deren and Dziga Vertov, as outlined in their various writings and in the filmed documentation of their practices. Deren asked how the mobile camera could capture dance in an abstract manner, using movement and the moving image to complement each other. Her discussion on the value of the amateur ‘filmmaker’ emphasised how dancers may lack experience as camera operators but are nonetheless able to draw upon their dance training and experiences as an aid in the filming of moving dance. Vertov’s kino-eye and montage editing demonstrated how a dialogue might be established between virtual and live ‘images’ during the studio process. Vertov’s objective was to show the technological potential of cinematic apparatuses. The camera or cinema eye uncovers dimensions inaccessible to the human eye alone. He “highlighted the ability of the camera to change the constitution of reality by modifying the way in which it is framed and the angles from which it is seen.”

Project findings revealed that conducting further research would inform a genre of dance and camera dialogue, not currently located in a formal mode of practice.

Practice-based , Video camera choreographic process , Camera dramaturgy , Emergent improvisation
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