I was first introduced to the work of Celia Rowlson Hall after seeing (and writing about) the remarkable film The Fits, for which she served as a movement consultant. In investigating her further, I discovered a unique aesthetic and sensibility that is remarkably quirky and unpredictable. In nearly everything I have seen that she has directed – both in terms of choreography and only slightly more traditional narrative shorts – I cannot imagine what to expect from one moment to the other, or how she arrived at her decisions, an experience I completely enjoy.
Rowlson Hall seems to do quite a bit of work with the American fashion designer Derek Lam as part of a series of short films that are not traditional commercials for clothing so much as shorts that exist on their own terms while advertising his name in a producing capacity. One such film is Afloat, which as per the liner notes follows two men leaving a subway train with “a broken heart and a full heart, side by side”. Featuring a small cameo of Rowlson Hall herself as what might be the sad man’s doomed love interest early on in the subway, what I love is that the men’s sensibilities and approaches to life are apparent in their clothes, expressions, and most especially, etched into their every movement.
It is in the latter arena that this film is most striking. As one man – the painter – begins to traditionally descend a steep subway staircase he suddenly slumps backwards and surrenders to gravity, seemingly defeated by life, while the other – a street dancer – carves the air with his hands and floats through it while flexing his elbows with impossible ease. We see the painter stumble and fall through a variety of locations – a city street, a football field – only finally gaining some control at the latter, while the street dancer seems to respond easily and organically to each location he finds himself in.
Afloat is extremely well shot, intersecting choreography and camera against New York’s urban landscape by Andrew Droz Palermo, with wonderful editing by Iva Radivojevic and Dave Russo. The choreography is emotionally riveting, delivering at once a sense of story and the pathos of the human condition, and is beautifully performed by Jason Kittleberger and Xavier Days.
Check it out and enjoy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder/Director of Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival, Sarah Elgart is a Los Angeles based choreographer and director working under the auspice of Sarah Elgart | Arrogant Elbow. Sarah creates original content for stage, screen, and site-specific venues. Her stage and site-works have been performed at alternative spaces including LAX Airport, The Skirball Center, Mark Taper Forum, Van Nuys Flyaway, The Bradbury Building, Jacob’s Pillow, INSITU Site-Specific Festival NY, and Loft Seven, where she created a rooftop work lit entirely by a hovering helicopter accompanied by Nels Cline (Wilco). Her work has been produced by venues including The Music Center, MASS MoCA, Dance Place, Los Angeles Theater Center, Mark Taper Forum and The International Women’s Theater Festival. In film Sarah has worked with noted directors including JJ Abrams, David Lynch, Catherine Hardwicke, and Anton Corbijn. Her own films include award-winning music videos, dance shorts, and an Emmy nominated PSA, and continue to be accepted into festivals internationally. In addition to teaching dance and film, Sarah writes a regular column, ScreenDance Diaries that focuses on the intersections of both genres internationally for online magazine Cultural Weekly. Sarah’s work has received support from organizations that include the Rockefeller Foundation, the NEA, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, California Arts Council and more. She is an alumna of the Sundance Institute’s Dance Film Lab, a Fellow of AFI’s Directing Women’s Workshop, and a director member of the DGA.