Where one sits in the theater may affect the impact of a ballet drastically. Filming can virtually transform dancing - which should be no surprise in a visual art, but often is with pieces that have become familiar on stage. Last night, on the Magic Lantern Cinema's Wednesday night series downtown in D.C. Space, two of the three movies were of choreography that has been seen here live.
"Night Journey," Martha Graham's depiction of the Oedipus story, emerged more as pantomime and sculptured gesture than as sweeping dance. Alexander Hannid's camera was fairly immovable and kept close to the protagonsits and Noguchi's bone sculptures. Entrances and exits, so important on stage, were often missing and this reduced the chorus to a decorative role rather than one that heightens the excitement.
But even in this static film edition, there are powerful performances. Paul Taylor, as the bling Tiresias who uses his cane sometimes as a pogo stick and sometimes to cleave the ground, moves on such a big scale that he violates the camera's careful style. Bertram Ross is a tyrannical Oedipus, who becomes a spoiled child in Jocasta's embrace. Graham herself was past her dancer's prime when this movie was made. As Jocasta, she's a wife only a son could love.
Roland Petit was director for the film of his "Young Man and Death" ballet. The choreography's casual mix of warm-up exercises, virtuoso dance steps, everyday motions and facial expressions can sometimes look trivial on stage. Here it has gained from the camera work that knows how to linger and when to move away. Rudolf Nureyev was in splendid dancing form. As a young man waiting alone in his room for a woman's visit, he expresses a sexuality so intense that it has a foreboding of doom.
There is so much film gimmickey in Petit's "In Praise of Foly" that it's difficult to imagine the piece on stage. Mostly, the dancers move as robots to display the work of avant-garde sculptors and painters.