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A brief history of the dancer/camera relationship

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This article reflects on the relationship between the dancer and the camera. It identifies a divide that commonly exists between the performing dancer and the camera operator/director in screendance-making and suggests that this divide is narrower in production works where links to the dance community exist on both sides of the lens and where production environments do not involve large teams behind the camera. This divide is examined in a historical context and changes in the dancer/camera relationship are charted with examples from the advent of film, such as Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studio productions through the choreography of Busby Berkeley in the 1930s, Maya Deren’s screen dance experiments in the 1950s, Merce Cunningham in the 1970s and concluding in the present day with works by practitioners such as Katrina McPherson and Margaret Williams. Drawing on the testaments of historical observers, contemporary theorists and first-hand accounts by dancers such as Alice Barker, Gene Kelly and Cathy Nicoli, the research undertaken here suggests that the dancer/camera/director divide still persists, even in the more closely aligned groups working in smaller production environments today. However, the article identifies a number of film-makers who, with the advent of new technologies, have developed an alternative approach to filming dance that challenges those structural and hierarchical divisions.
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Keywords: Busby Berkeley; Maya Deren; dance film; dance film history; dancer/camera relationship; screendance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bath Spa University

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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