Testing Ground



Establishing greater specificity in screendance discourse” — by Kyra Norman
Testing ground: evolving screendance practices and theories and the Leeds International Film Festival Screendance Competition
The International Journal of Screendance 6, 2016

“When we talk about ‘screendance’: what do we mean? And how can we take account of different approaches, priorities, knowledges, and histories? This is a line of enquiry that runs through screendance discourse, and may be traced back through previous issues of the International Journal of Screendance, for example from Douglas Rosenberg’s writing on excavating genres within screendance and Carroll’s essay, discussed above, in volume 1, through Adam Roberts’ “Notes of Filming Dance” in volume 2, and most recently taken up by Anna Heighway in her discussion of “Radical Screendance” in volume 4. The drive to speak with specificity is not purely academic, since it also allows us to discuss and respond to works in appropriate, direct, and specific ways.
In their closing comments at this year’s event, the LIFF Screendance Competition judges (Liz Aggiss, Leonel Brum, and Marisa C. Hayes) acknowledged a particular challenge in this area. Among the diverse works submitted, they had identified two very different approaches to making screendance and they “didn’t want their final choice to be read as endorsing one approach over another.”14 The judges saw a clear divide between “works of choreography for human dancers, in partnership with the camera and a site-specific environment,” and works that construct choreography from materials and processes, in this case Mariam Eqbal’s “Choreography for the Scanner,” a film constructed using a still image and a flatbed scanner, creating a simple choreography through repetition, referencing early photographic and cinematic explorations of moving bodies. Might we consider, returning to Bordwell, above, that Eqbal’s choreography takes place ‘between your ears’: that the connection between her activity and the idea of ‘dance’ takes place in our minds, rather than before our eyes?
In highlighting and finding ways to describe the two distinct approaches, the LIFF Screendance Competition judges feed into ongoing discussions around genres and sub-genres in screendance, a topic on which Douglas Rosenberg has written extensively, urging us to “counter the narrative of screendance as monolithic and without distinction as to genres, medium specificity, or identifiable differences that flow from formal or substantive approaches and concerns…”15 Rosenberg proposes that “the discourse around screendance would be made stronger by excavating and identifying its generic sources, which would in turn push screendance into a broader and more vital interdisciplinary dialog.”16 I understand such vitality to be equally important to artists writers and researchers, enabling more appropriate and complex discussions of our work.

Given the LIFF SDC judges’ comments, two pieces of writing seem relevant to consider understand seemingly disparate definitions of screendance: Noël Carroll’s paper “Toward a definition of Moving-Picture Dance,” and Anna Heighway’s essay “Understanding the ‘Dance’ in Radical Screendance.”
Carroll’s paper was initially presented at the “Dance for the Camera Symposium” at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2000, and subsequently published in the Summer 2001 issue of Dance Research Journal, before being reprinted in the first issue of the International Journal of Screendance in 2010. His insistence on accuracy in naming, and his considered refutation of many possible terms is provocative. For example, he argues against then prevalent, medium-specific labels such as cine-dance or dancefilm, and also against the term ‘screendance’ as an overarching categorization, on the grounds that TV, for example, isn’t a screen in the sense of a surface onto which the image is projected, but a means of creating and presenting an image. I find this distinction particularly interesting in that it suggests a shift in the common usage of the word ‘screen’ in the last 15 years, as we now routinely refer to TV, computers, and smartphones as having screens, independent of any means of projection. The prevalence of terms such as ‘screen media’ and ‘screen time’ underline this change. Nevertheless, Carroll opts for ‘moving-picture dance’ and, again, is very precise in selecting ‘moving-picture’ over ‘moving image,’ proposing that where an image can be abstract, a picture offers a recognizable form…” (click here to read full text)