Creature Avis Kapadia – based on the dance production by Akram Kahn (UK, 2022) Jeffrey Cirio; Erina Takahashi
viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 26 Feb 2023; ticket £10.25
After seeing Avis Kapadia’s ‘Creature’ the question that came to mind is what value there is in transposing dance form from stage to film, from live enactment to representative image? Whether dance with its stylisation of performance translates into filmic two dimensional representation. On the evidence of ‘Creature’ my feeling is that the returns from such filmic exercises accrue more to the prestige of the producers than to the satisfaction of the the audience. And without more thought than Avis Kapadia is able to give the project, ‘Creature’ does not work as film.
An audience can obviously enjoy this spectacle of dance on film but it delivers not only something less than the experience of live performance, but it is a quite other experience.
In some critical respects dance as part of its inherent nature resists transfer from floor to screen.
There is one obvious consideration: the pure physicality of dancing. A physicality that transfers itself with electric immediacy in shared space with the audience. Both performers and audience are in the same place, the latter immanently present to movement and adjustment of muscular co-ordination of the dancers: the audience are not just viewers but witnesses.
But besides this consideration of audience presence there are problems implicit in the the film form itself that inhibit the representation of dance on film. There are issues with the very basic language of film: the editing – the montage – the manner in which psychically they function utilising different dimensional combinations. Film occupying height width time; dance using height width depth.
Film, even in 3D, works by exploiting the dimension of time; dance works by exploiting the dimension of space.
In a film drama when the editor or director decide to make a cut in the action, for instance from a wide shot of two people talking to a close up of one of them, in order to capture the ‘reaction’, it is ‘time’ that is being controlled not space. Whenever there is a cut in the action it is a cut in time. And time is also being controlled in the decisions relating to the cut: when to cut, how long to hold the second shot, when to cut away again. These are temporal decisions that dictate the pacing and weight of the clip. It’s all about time. This can be seen most obviously in many contemporary films where some sequences are built up of very short durational shots, designed to accelerate the subjective experience of time. But even in classically cut films it is the actual change of shots, the weight given them by duration, that render meaning and are a function of time.
Dance takes place not as a function of time but in and through the existence of space. The dance venue is a shared bounded space, defined by both physical boundaries and lighting. Dance takes place in a three dimensional physical world. Space is occupied not time. Dancers exploit space for its three dimensional potential. They invest space with content and meaning, in making use of a traditional number of actions and positions there is an element in dance that is timeless. As pure body dancers expand compress extend define themselves as beings subject to the laws of gravity but yearning to defy it.
The problem with the way Kapadia has directed ‘Creature’ is that he has worked multiple cuts into the action, trying to manipulate a locational expressive form so that it coheres with his decision to impose on it time based montage. Each time Kapadia imposes his temporal decision to cut into the movement of ‘Creature’ he destroys the spacial imperative of the dance causing it to lose its claim on authenticity which is based on the primacy of space.
Dance is mainly organised about archetypes, characters who display certain types of universally recognised attributes. The young woman, the orphan, dives, the old man, the prisoner: all of these ‘types’ can be developed along multiple lines of possibilities in three dimensional movement which can be choreographed through multiple planes, using an infinite number of dance developed variations of the walk the run the fall the lift the skip the stretch etc organised so as to produce by exploiting the possibilities of the body in space: expression. Dance cuts through space, compresses space within and between bodies, makes lines in space. In the dance the performer is nearly always mute. It is the body in space that communicates and this of course includes the head as part of the body. In dance the face as part of the head, is a mask. Unlike spoken drama where the face is usually the focus of expression, the face in dance normally has little discrete value. The reason for this is that if dance gives faciality value, if it emphasises face, it simultaneously devalues the line of the dance, the commitment of the whole body to express itself in space. The face cannot exist in ‘space’. The mask completes the body in space, the face with its whole expressive capacity, destroys the dance. And yet Kapadia again and again in ‘Creature’ negates the integrity of the dance by persistent use of facial montage.
Kapadia’s ‘Creature’ does not work as a transition of dance to screen. He has not put the requisite conceptual work into realising the transposition of one form to another. For some ‘Creature’ may work as a documented spectacle, but for the most part it looks like a typical stranded blue chip ‘arts’ project.