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Dance Camera West Film Festival opened its very exciting 16th annual film festival at UCLA’s Royce Hall with thirteen International Short dance films preceded by a live performance of the Seaweed Sisters. The filmmakers and choreographers represented the United States, England, France, Argentina, Japan, The Netherlands, and Sweden. The quality of films was excellent this year, with beautiful cinematography, exciting editing, strong choreography and wonderful performances by a host of dancers. The subject matter covered multiple storylines, viewpoints and emotions; all expressed through dance as seen through the eyes of the directors, the lens of the camera and the editors’ choices. Kudos to the Executive Director Tonia Barber, CAP UCLA, the Fowler Museum, USC Kaufman School of Dance and CalArts for presenting this festival. Thanks also goes to the National Endowment for the Arts, Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs for their continuing support.

The Seaweed Sisters are Megan Lawson, Jillian Meyers, Dana Wilson who choreographed and performed a humorous trio dressed in sequined bathing caps, with fish netting draped over their costumes to the music Get Free by Major Lazer, featuring Amber Coffman. I have seen and enjoyed their YouTube video of this work that was shot in and around a swimming pool. There it made more sense than it did in the lobby at Royce Hall where their facial mugging and slapstick antics bordered on becoming tedious.

I enjoyed all the films, but the ones that most impressed me were Ready to Surrender, directed and filmed by Maceo Frost and choreographed by Mari Carrasco; Move On, by Japanese filmmaker based in New York Yasuaki Fujinami; Intrinsic Moral Evil, directed by Netherlands based Harm Weistra with choreographed by Fernando Dominguez Rincón; Open by Lindsay Gauthier and Dana Genshaft; and the very short film titled Moonlight, by American filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer with choreography by Robert Battle and Jonah, by New York based Andrew Michael Ellis.

Ready to Surrender stood out first because of its cinematography, use of slow motion, editing techniques and the choice of color contrasts. The film opened with a wash of almost blinding white, accented by the dancers’ vibrant red, blue, white and black hair colors. The white suddenly shifted into grays with dancers falling and ascending in slow motion and back to white. The choreography by Carrasco was harsh and confrontational, and beautifully incorporated the dancers’ long, wet hair styles. Frost and Carrasco have created both a visual and kinetic experience that is quite enjoyable.

Fujinami’s Move On is a beautiful film shot in a subway car, on city streets and underneath a bridge with snow falling. One gets the feeling of time lapses that cause the main character to suddenly find himself thrust into different locations; often being jerked back into the same subway seat. The dancer, Allchiro Miyagawa, is very good, but the choreography is not the focus in this film. It is the editing that gives Move On its strength.

Intrinsic Moral Evil is a very interesting film about three young men discovering their sexuality and attraction to each other. Danced wonderfully by Joan Ferré Gomez, Jorge Guillen Ortiz and Frago Penã Gonzalez, two friends begin friendly challenging movement that is soon interrupted with sexual tension, causing one to leave. A third character, with long hair and whose sex is not clear, enters for a very sensual duet during which he removes his shirt to reveal that he is indeed male. Filmed in a long dark hallway with marble columns, Intrinsic Moral Evil visually is stunning.

Open showcases the talents of two members of Lines Ballet, Michael Montgomery and Laura O’Malley. The choreography, by Dana Genshaft, is both set and improvised. It is sensual and fluid and greatly enriched with the use of filmmaker Lindsay Gauthier’s camera work and editing. There are beautiful closeups that enhance rather than destroy the choreography by giving the viewer an inside feel of the two dancers’ emotions. One feels the movement rather than simply looking at it from afar.

Filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer joined forces with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre to pay homage to Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed drama, Moonlight, that was inspired by the unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney’s. Danced powerfully by Jamar Roberts, Christopher Taylor and Jeremy T. Villas to the powerful music by Academy Award-nominated composer Nicholas Britell, this very short film encapsulates the films three stages of the main character’s development: Little, Terrell and Black.

Jonah is a black and white film shot primarily in the subways of New York City. The text one hears is an interview with a former African American slave as a young black man faces death. Throughout the film there are brief appearances of people with painted death masks sitting in subway cars or walking by this young man as he cleans the subway platform. There are also beautiful shots of a moon lit beach and blowing desert sands. Jonah is a haunting film by director Andrew Michael Ellis which premiered at the 45th Dance On Camera Festival in London.

Other films on the program were Percecuta directed and choreographed by the Lombard Twins; Wake, directed by Katherine Macnaughton with choreography by Ashley Werhun; Life in Color, directed and choreographed by Wade Robson and Tyce Diorio; Adolescent, Mutter by London based Maddalena McNicholas; Let’s Dance, directed by Allison Beda, choreography by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg; Geometrie Variable, directed and choreographed by France’s Sadeck Berrabah and Ammar Benbouzid, and Moving Southwark, directed by Jevan Chowdhury.

Dance Camera West Film Festival continues through this week end and next. For information and tickets, click here. The films reviewed above were only shown once, but a few of them can be viewed online.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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