The seamless grace of dance captures a mood or feeling without ever utilizing spoken word. Not unlike the laborious work involved with choreography, film also uses motion to convey a message. Culling together a final film edit—an exercise in precision and careful contemplation—necessitates a similar skillset and dedication as that required for crafting a dance. Rhythm proves key in both.
Since 2007 Cucalorus Film Festival has been marrying these two mediums in a night that kicks off their annual weekend-long cinematic celebration. Their Dance-a-lorus event highlights the importance the festival puts on artists of all disciplines. Cucalorus joins forces with The Dance Cooperative and New York’s Dance Films Associated, as dancers interact with live projections of abstract and documentarian-style media throughout their performances at Thalian Hall on Wednesday, November 12.
“Dance-a-lorus is easily the hottest ticket at Cucalorus,” festival director Dan Brawley tells. “There aren’t many performances like it–where you can watch a group of artists taking risks and pushing themselves all onstage on the same night. Even the first year, it was packed with people excited to see how choreographers and filmmakers were navigating that conversation between the two artforms.”
Brawley first began to mull over generating a platform to explore dance and film simultaneously when he was invited by The Dance Cooperative to watch their monthly showing. His mind, which is always looking for new ways to expand and better Cucalorus, immediately began to hum with the possibilities.
“Dance-a-lorus expands the creative reach of the festival in so many ways,” he says. “We’re supporting the creation of new works—both dance and film. To me, that’s where we should be: digging our hands into the origination of new works. It can get messy, but we want to take risks right along with the artists.”
The Dance Cooperative has roots throughout Wilmington. They were pivitol in finding the necessary talent to fuel Dance-a-lorus. The group was wholly on board right from the start.
“They were up to the challenge of exploring the possibilities,” Brawley tells. “I had no idea that it would grow into such a key piece of the festival or that we’d grow our dance program to include workshops and curated dance films.”
Kate Muhlstein, The Dance Cooperative Dance-a-lorus coordinator, has been one of the primary forces behind the event since its beginning. She’s been dancing and choreographing for numbers since it started. She took on the title of coordinator in 2010 and maintains that Dance-a-lorus isn’t just about dancing in front of a projector; the two mediums should perfectly complement each other. There’s an intricate give and take that must be realized to be successful.
“What makes the incorporation of dance and film so unique is the diptych element,” Muhlstein elaborates. “If executed correctly, each element shouldn’t be able to stand alone—or could, but is weaker without its other half.”
Muhlstein notes a dance she once performed with Barrett Delong about an audition gone wrong. “Some Assembly Required” coalesced by showing two people, who are disassembled and computerized, auditioning to create the ultimate pop star. The experiment goes awry when the computer malfunctions. By making the piece revolve around technology, it captured the essence of conjoining digital media and dance.
This year a wide variety of filmic dance is slated to be performed—nine routines in total. Folks from up and down the East Coast will be showcasing their talents. As always a score of Wilmington natives will light up the stage, too. Local hip-hop and contemporary dance choreographer Philip McGee, who has danced for other groups at the event in the past, will put his skills to the test this year with “The Great Gatsby”-inspired routine, “Love or Not.” Mcgee’s work will open the show.
“I watched ‘The Great Gatsby’ and fell in love with the movie and wanted to be him,” McGee says. “So I did a dance about it. It was fun trying to get in his head and what it was like to be at his party. The dance will show you what went on at Gatsby’s party and how love can turn on people.”
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Patton White, who has previously had a film screen at Cucalorus, will helm this year’s commissioned work for Dance-a-lorus. Her film, “A Home is a Home,” will play alongside choreography by Sue Schroeder. As the title suggests, the work will explore the idea of home, examining humans’ place of origin and the social units formed from communal living.
Likewise, Mary John Frank will be returning to Wilmington after having been a part of the Dancemakers Retreat at Jengo’s Playhouse over the summer. She will unveil some of the work she developed during that experience.
As well Muhlstein will be performing in “Lexicon,” an entry with a film by Patrick Ogelvie and choreography by Linda Ann Webb. “[It] is a work [about] falling into the rabbit hole, exploring the realm of a Parcheesi board that comes to life,” Muhlstein describes. “This piece is reminiscent of an absinthe trip and is high energy. It closes the show this year.”
Looking toward the future, the immense interest in Dance-a-lorus has spurred brainstorming sessions on a possible spring installment. With only a single night of performances scheduled, it can be difficult to fit everyone’s hard work in. This new incarnation will allow a separate opportunity for creatives to display their works.
“The core of Dance-a-lorus lives right here in Wilmington,” Brawley states. “The dancers from the community devote hundreds of hours to make this happen. I really enjoy watching the evolution of this group of choreographers as they explore film.”
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St
Wednesday, November 12, 7 p.m.