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There is something about empty, old, and/or abandoned indoor gymnasiums, especially those with swimming pools, that is inherently poetic and must speak directly to the concept of merging dance and film. The cavernous space can be haunting and beautiful, the scale in the deep end of an empty pool itself and its relationship to surrounding high walls and windows with their numerical markings and faded tiles from years of use can be especially evocative. Maybe it’s that we can envision all the water, practically hear the swimming and splashing, and jubilant voices in what we imagine might be the middle of summer. Almost as with the work of visual artist Christian Boltanski, who uses old photographs, clothes, and shoes to suggest (at the very least) the passage of time and who/what is now absent or gone, these old empty spaces seem to evoke what I like to call a “ghost imprint” of bygone days.
So when I encountered Barcelona-based director Gerard Montero’s film Empty, on NOWNESS, I quickly checked to see if it was shareable on YouTube. The film features five women in just such a beautiful abandoned, indoor pool and gymnasium, and the palette of the space, costume design, and overall film is soft with faded pastels cut with the light from high windows. But along with the un-credited experimental score, the wonderful choreography by Paloma Muñoz combines soft and edgy movement with patterns reminiscent of synchronized swimmers and slices through it all like a knife, making the film really interesting. Empty puts to great use the location’s space and scale, and as per the liner notes “The film explores ideas around dance and the significance we place on movement, which can’t always be easily explained.”
Although this is the fourth or fifth dance film I’ve seen in such a location, as someone whose first response to space and scale is always with movement, and having just recently completed a site-specific dance film of my own in a huge space, Empty resonated for me. Maybe because dance inherently requires and demands space, like a visual artist requires a blank canvas an abundance of empty space just invites us to have at it.
Happy New Year, and I hope you enjoy Empty.
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.