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Held at UCLA’s Royce Hall in association with CAP UCLA the 2016 Dance Camera West Film Festival should have been a festive occasion. It was instead the opening night of the 15th dance film festival that very few people attended and which ended without even a “thank you for coming” or “see you tomorrow night”. I was left with a feeling of sadness and emptiness because of some of the choices made by the DCW organization, and because of the lack of support from the dance community as a whole. Perhaps it was the ticket price; $100 per person.

hold (STILL) – Jenny Stulberg, USA,
hold (STILL) – Jenny Stulberg, USA,

The evening began at 6 PM in the “Royce Hall Media Lounge” where the walls were covered with large beautiful Dance Instagram photographs by David Krugman, Emma Portner, Lauren Randolph, Kenneth Brewster Edwards, Art Abelyan and Rey Canlas Jr. curated by Jacob Jonas. There was a table where one could sit, don a virtual reality headset and watch a film titled “History of Cuban Dance” by director Lucy Walker. It was indeed interesting to watch people learn a four movement, 3-second dance phrase, perform the phrase for a camera and then see the resulting Learn, Capture, Repeat film that was made through “digital processing and accumulation”. This was a collaboration between Stephan Koplowitz and Alan Price that was originally seen in 2014 at Ohio State University. While all this took place everyone mingled with their colleagues and enjoyed a drink and Hor d’Oeuvres.

An African Walk - Pierre Larauza & Emmanuelle Vincent, Belgium/China
An African Walk – Pierre Larauza & Emmanuelle Vincent, Belgium/China

At 7 PM the event moved into Royce Hall where the Learn, Capture, Repeat film was still running. We were graciously welcomed by Dance Camera West Executive Director Tonia Barber who outlined what was taking place over the next two days.

Dance of the Neurons - Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel, USA
Dance of the Neurons – Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel, USA

As Barber was wrapping up her welcoming speech, she was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone and loud talking. Taken from Laura Karlin’s dance Reel, four members of the Invertigo Dance Theatre, each talking on cell phones began performing on stage in what was by far some of Karlin’s weakest and uninteresting work. The movement seemed disjointed and without purpose; like a chapter lifted from a novel without any references to the title or the plot. This shocked me as I know this choreographer and her work. Laura Karlin is capable of far better. The dancers: Jessica Dunn, Irene Kleinbauer, Alex Malachi Middleton, Sadie Yarrington deserve mention as they are fearless, accomplished dancers and they performed beautifully.

The live performance was followed by the film titled Mine with choreography and direction by Laura Karlin. The choreography was stronger, the performances by Jessica Dunn and Alex Malachi Middleton were stunning and the sunlight on them was gorgeous.  I question, however, why go to the trouble of filming a duet in an abandoned mine shack in the Mojave without making better use of the venue. The camera angles were limited and rarely was the dance shot from outside through a window or door, never did a dancer touch anything in the space other than each other. There were so many more possibilities with this unique venue that were never explored.

Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato
Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato

The last film was the west coast premiere of Disportrait, a film by Alejandro Alvarez and Ulrik Wivel that documented Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato who, after twenty years, was fired from his job as artistic director of the National Spanish Dance Company. In 2011 he accepts and fails at the challenge of modernizing the very tradition-bound Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a long and depressing film that shows very little of Duato’s work. There are only brief scenes of rehearsals and a few backstage scenes during and following performances. Mostly the camera follows Duato in his apartment as he drinks a lot of wine and chain smokes. We get some insight into his emotions as Duato films himself in bed during bouts of insomnia and by listening in on telephone conversations that he has with friends. There is a wonderful scene of him working on his charcoal paintings and his search for an almost non-existent gay social life in St. Petersburg. After two years, Duato quits the Mikhailovsky Ballet and happily accepts a position as head of the Berlin State Ballet.

The film ended, the theater house lights came up and that was that. There was no good-bye, thank you coming or see you later from the organizers before the audience silently filed out of Royce Hall. It was indeed a very strange and disappointing ending to an already low key opening night of the 2016 Dance Camera West Film Festival. I am confident that the next two days of dance films will prove more exciting.

The festival continues on Friday evening, June 17th in Royce Hall with International Shorts presenting films from Canada, America, China, Netherlands and Finland. On the afternoon of the 18th at the Fowler Museum there are the World Dance Films. The Festival closes Saturday evening at Royce Hall with For Two/Deconstructed: A Conversation with Melissa Barak by Jeannette Godoy, USA, Horizontes by Eileen Hofer, Cuba, the CalArts Emerging Artist Awards/Screenings and the Dance Camera West Awards Presentation.

For More Information and to Purchase Tickets:  www.dancecamerawest.org; 310-248-4944

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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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