- Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image by Douglas Rosenberg, and: Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image by Brannigan Erin
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Over the years, screendance has generated flurries of interest within the scholarly dance community, only to watch that interest wane again and again with shifting academic trends. The past decade, however, has seen a slow-churning energy that may result in a more sustainable conversation around dance onscreen, much of which has been fueled by screendance artists and programmers themselves. A number of volumes of interest to academia have emerged as screendance artists have made homes for themselves in university settings. For makers of dance onscreen, Katrina McPherson’s Making Video Dance: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Dance for the Screen (2006) and Karen Pearlman’s Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit (2009) are especially noteworthy. After Sherril Dodds’s important historical and analytical book Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art (2001), however, screendance scholarship was not positioned to capitalize and build on Dodds’s provocation. Liz Aggiss and Billy Cowie’s edited collection Anarchic Dance (2006) offers a wonderful model for gathering together the creative work of a team of artists and scholarly writing about their work, but like Envisioning Dance on Film and Video (2002), a collection that was pulled together under Judy Mitoma’s direction, the tone is somewhat self-congratulatory and the analysis is tepid. Finally, two books have come out that will stand alongside Dodds’s to re-ignite conversations in the screendance field and in Dance Studies generally, and will do so in a generative and critical way: Douglas Rosenberg’s Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image (2012) and Erin Brannigan’s Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image (2011).
Both Brannigan and Rosenberg mention that their first books have been a long time coming; each author places the gestation period at over a decade. In the intervening years, Rosenberg has been a vocal advocate for screendance criticism and scholarship, founding the International Journal of Screendance with Claudia Kappenberg (full disclosure, I am on the editorial board) while continuing his practices as a maker and curator of screendance. Brannigan likewise continued her curatorial practice while finishing her doctorate and publishing her research. Both authors focus their volumes on the field of artistic production that has gone by the names of dancefilm, videodance, cinedance, dance for camera, and, more recently, screendance, but the books diverge radically from that shared starting point.
Terminology is just the first of the authors’ many differences, but it is a telling one. Rosenberg uses the term “screendance” as an umbrella term under which all dance and non-dance choreography created for any size or type of screen can fit. This is in keeping with his influences from video and studio art and his avant-guardist leanings in tracing screendance genealogies. Brannigan utilizes the term “dancefilm” in order to emphasize an aesthetic and technological continuity among screen media, and to recognize the centrality of cinema—from framing and editing in the filmmaking process to the tools and theories of film analysis—for her project generally. Indeed, Brannigan’s book demonstrates her facility with both Film and Dance Studies literatures, and she productively [End Page 133] leverages the likes of Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, and Jean-François Lyotard in commenting on the many works of film and video that form the core of her text. In contrast, Rosenberg offers a meta-commentary on the screendance field from his position as a longtime participant in the community. The result is part diagnosis, part manifesto—from which screendance works are largely absent. Although...