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Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The existing state of affairs

Status quo = the existing state of affairs
These updates which used to be monthly, now seem to be more or less bi-monthly. But except for this change in frequency, you may have noticed that they follow a pattern.  Lucky for me,  the status quo is fairly predictable:

There's completed work appearing in festivals all around:

Terra Vermelha / Red Dirt Dances at VideoDanzaBA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as Ribeiro Preto and Itabaiana in Brazil.

Tumult will screen on November 14 as part of Kicking + Screening Dance Film Festival at Jamestown Arts Center; also at InShadow in Lisbon, and at Midwest RAD Fest in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

There's a project I'm currently editing which is nearing completion:

What She Sees 

(a working title, formerly Through Mabel's Eyes, see post below)
It's pretty close to finished. And whaddaya know, it's just about the same length and the same structure as I proposed in my application to the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Despite all of the improvisation involved (again, see earlier post below) I'm getting better at achieving what I originally set out to do.

Happily, for this film I don't expect to be tortured with music licenses - a constant refrain in here, right? - because I finally had the good sense to select music for which don't have to hunt down some reluctant middle-man-moneymaker, because I actually know the artist. I'm getting better at that too. Next step is to commission a score for a new dance film, and I'm getting closer to that as well.

There's a project on the horizon:

(At the moment the 10HL dance film I was somewhat prematurely gearing up for is now on a back burner.) But there's another - a dance film for Hunter College students in January 2020 - that's simmering on a front burner. Fingers crossed that we get to shoot in a totally cool location ... site to be divulged if and when permission is granted.


And a few anomalies to enliven the status quo:

Her Magnum Opus will screen on January 8th at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Aileen Passloff, its star, has been invited to show a live dance related to the Atheneum's Ballets Russes exhibit, and to submit to an interview, as well as screening Opus. My first feature film has had a pretty long tail, but I expect this to be one of its last public screenings. And note the italics on first, meaning there may be more.

I'm toying with the idea of making a new live dance. Winter seems like a good time to do so. Will I also shoot it? Probably. Will it be outdoors? No.

Along with the unveiling of a sample of actual work:

This one a deleted scene from Where Love Leads, to wonderful music by Kamel Boutros, cinematography (and garden!) by Jennifer Keller, danced by members of the Slippery Rock University Dance Department.  I do hope you'll watch / donate / comment / ask a question if you've a mind to, though I simultaneously regret that we all spend too much time on these darn devices.  Sadly, that's also the existing state of affairs.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

I post this update on a radiant September day while in residence at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, RI, where I'm working on an ambitious new film project called Through Mabel's Eyes. Here's the treatment:

A painter walks out into nature for inspiration, finding it in the movement of a leaf, whitecaps on the water, laundry airing outdoors. We see the world as she sees it: now serene, now wild, at moments completely out of focus, at others hyper-detailed. Through her eyes we also see the world as it will be 75 years later: noisier, more populous, the landscape cluttered with housing and refuse. Six characters are revealed to us in the past, bound by gender and class, and then re-visited as their counterparts in the future, in surroundings that mirror the past, now altered.

A man wanders in the yew forest, an unread book near where he lies. A sailor rolls in the surf, sensually, with abandon. Two housemaids take a break from laundry detail.  A man and woman eye each other from a distance near a tiny family cemetery.  Life goes on, the land changes, people intrude, others seek sanctuary. 

Through Mabel’s eyes, the viewer experiences these changing perspectives. Finally, our painter, dressed in modern clothing, drives her car up to a parking lot with the same farmhouse in the distance. We see that something from the past has been preserved from future degradation: the  Norman Bird Sanctuary.

The ensemble for this one includes Renzi stalwarts Andy Chapman, Alberto Denis and Aislinn MacMaster, joined by 3 dancers from Rhode Island College whom I met while working on Tumult earlier this year: Brooklyn Toli, Crespo Rosario and Alexis Von Makulski. And from Newport Dominique Alfandre, who will channel Mabel Norman herself. 

Only 3 dancers at most are ever on site at the same time - and each only for one day of rehearsal the day before shooting.  Without daily rehearsals, I keep busy listening to possible music for the edit, sewing costumes, organizing schedules and locations, and doing some practice shooting with my cellphone. Daily bike rides to the ocean, star-gazing and listening to the wind clear the palate - or is it palette?

As this new project evolves, finished ones continue to travel all over. With an upcoming screening on September 20 at the nearby Jamestown Arts Center, Her Magnum Opus is still finding audiences, two years after its premiere.


Before 2019 ends, Dirt / Tierra Vermelha will show in Brussels and Thessaloniki; The Woods is an Official Selection of Frame x Frame in Houston; Where Love Leads shows in Cyprus, Mexico City and Yonkers.  Thanks to old broads on both sides of the camera, dear Roxie was accepted by Women Over 50 Film Festival in England. And screendance maven Cara Hagan has selected Strategic Retreat to show in a program she's been invited to curate in Montreal as part of Regards Hybrides, which purports to:

"take a critical look at the interactions between dancing bodies and cameras through popular culture and low-tech creation. In a sea of technological innovation, what becomes of creativity on a human scale and its impact on our relationship with the world on a daily basis?" 

Yeah, the language mystifies me a bit as well. But I get the part about "creativity on a human scale" for sure.

VideoDanzaBA in Buenos Aires has selected not just one, or two, but three Renzi works for its 24th editionTumultStrategic Retreat and Red Dirt Dances. You and I won't be traveling to Buenos Aires to celebrate my Trifecta.  But you can enjoy Opus and others on Vimeo on Demand.  And a donation of any size will get you access to all you can view - a Renzi retrospective right on your couch. Meanwhile, enjoy the trailer for Dirt, which wins the in-house prize for clocking the most miles this month.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The making of

One thing I miss about not doing live shows anymore is the direct and immediate connection to a live audience. Of course if I manage to attend a film festival, the Q&A after is one way to connect. But too often my dance film work will be seen on a small screen, privately - like you're doing right now. Because I miss the dialog, I decided to write a monologue: with a bit of behind-the-scenes history to enrich your viewing experience of this post's video.

The 3-minute excerpt below is a deleted scene from Where Love Leads, which I made last fall with dance students at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Why deleted? It's a long story - about as long as the process itself. So grab a beer and listen up.

First, you need to know that my version of creative process includes quite a lot of improvisation - in every phase, including casting. In September, a few days before rehearsals would begin, I called on my host / cinematographer Jennifer Keller, with whom I'd first collaborated on Plow Plant Reap in 2015. Hoping to expand my experience by working with students with disabilities, I asked her to help me enlist some volunteers from the SRU community. Jennifer put me in touch with 2 women who strained their busy schedules and joined the able-bodied dancers for several rehearsals.  In addition to educating me about the diseases which are an integral part of their identities, both Francine Maitland and Kayla Jesberger added life and depth to the Love community on screen and off. In the finished film,  the core cast first encounters them at the thrift shop and sweeps them into the mix.

As I got further involved in the SRU community, I was tickled to meet 2 warm and talented professors: Jesse Factor and Lindsay Viatori, whom I spontaneously invited to make a quartet with 2 dancers from the core cast. We had one rehearsal on Jennifer's lawn and in the pickup truck.  Later during shooting, the arrival of the 2 "hippies from over the hill" through the blades of grass was one of my favorites.

Later, back in Nyack, with this now deleted scene still included in the full-length edit, I was diligently trying to track down the rights holders for the delicious music by Jesse Winchester.  Despite various emails to numerous parties - don't start me on this topic again! - I got nowhere.  So I ended up cutting the scene for several reasons:

1. if I did eventually hear back about rights for Sweet Loving Daddy, it would only add to the total budget

2. the chances of being accepted into festivals is drastically improved the shorter the work is.  For that reason, I also cut a rather lovely scene with just the women of the core cast in a flower garden in their pj's... maybe I'll share that one here someday...)

3. There was no compelling reason to add yet more characters at that point in the proceedings, as much as I enjoyed the idea of the hippies crashing the party. In fact, it already risks coherence to have Francine & Kayla find their way to the subsequent scene of the tailgate party but not on to the final scene. Aargh.

You can see how my improvised casting opens me to fortuitous opportunities in terms of creating community, at the same as it threatens to muddy the "script".

Did I waste everyone's time shooting scenes that didn't make it into the final version?  Nah, for one thing, part of what I'm modeling for students is the importance of ruthless editing!

For that matter, what is the final version anyway? My "director's cut" might include both of those deleted scenes. And really, after these pieces have had some festival life - Where Love Leads will screen in Nyack next month - who but me will look at them again?  As proud as I am that my filmography continues to grow, I'm not ashamed to admit that both my successes and failures also continue to pile up.



Speaking of successes ... two years on, Her Magnum Opus is still finding its audience: I'll try to attend VOB Film Festival to enjoy the experience of a live audience in Carmel, NY. And I'm toying with being there in person for Opus at Sunrise Film Festival in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, Tumult will travel to North Carolina, Kentucky and California and Red Dirt Dances to Brussels. Around the world with dance film!


Finally, thanks to the very few of you who were inspired to make a small financial contribution to my work by my last post. There is no bad time to donate, if you get my drift.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

A Peculiar Career

First let me say that I count myself lucky to have been able to continue making work all these years, adjusting my methods and expectations as needed, occasionally taking long breaks, re-defining what I make, how I make it and who I make it with. Not many people can claim a career - in modern dance! - that's not in some way peculiar. But Lordy, it's been an  independent path, one might almost say on the margins. 

I often wonder how different it would have been if I'd apprenticed myself to a master choreographer, or gone to graduate school - especially now that I'm making films! Hard to believe I've done all this without the benefit of an agent or a booking company except for about 6 months in 1985, at which point I promptly got pregnant with my first son.  Did the fact that I moved to the suburbs and raised a family inevitably lead to a life's work that has become more a vocation than a living? Is trying to measure a life in dollars rather than personal satisfaction just capitalism talking?

[ALERT: solicitation in store !!]
At the same time as I have felt unrecognized, on the whole it's been rewarding, Nothing is quite as engaging as spending time making stuff up - either in a studio with others or editing footage alone. But with age comes The Great Reckoning: if I didn't make any money, did I at least make a difference?

In the past week, I've gotten some data suggesting that what I make has touched people, and might serve a purpose. Below are a series of heartwarming responses edited by curator Eva Campos Suarez with audience members immediately after a screening of Her Magnum Opus in Spain in late April. One thing I know about this peculiar career: it's important to find the audience who understands and appreciates what you make. Because making a difference is not about numbers of views: not everything is for everyone.




[3 paragraphs till fund-raising pitch!!]

I'm also tickled to report that 2 very different pieces of mine will be studied in school: The Woods by students from 3rd-6th grade; In search of lost time by high-schoolers. Brilliant of FAD: Film-Art-Dance Festival in Cary, North Carolina to create this curriculum - naturally, I've asked them to share their lesson plans with me! I can't quite imagine how a 3rd-grade or an 11th grader might be inspired by my short films ... but I love thinking about it.

Looking to the future, there are two rewarding projects on the boards before 2019 ends - one a collaboration in NYC sometime this summer with 10HL, a repertory company of 6 very talented men, to be based on Lewis Hine's photos of men at work. 
Details not finalized, but I can't wait!

I've also been invited to be a part of the inaugural Mabel Residency at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, Rhode Island where in 2011 I made Tales Told in the Woods as part of Open for Dancing.  I'm thrilled for the chance to return to that beautiful place - forest, field and ocean - to make a dance film tentatively entitled En Plein Air: Through Mabel's Eyes. However, the invitation to stay there for 3 weeks doesn't include production support ...

... so if you've read this far, PLEASE MAKE A DONATION to help make that new work possible. I'll likely do a Kickstarter campaign, but I would so appreciate the Kick in the Tail that even a hundred-dollars-per-person might guarantee.