Camera Moves: Experiments in Dance

We caught up with Tim Brunsden to find out more about his experimental filmmaking projects with dancers in the MDI studio.

The idea for Camera Moves developed as part of a Time & Space residency I did last year at METAL – Liverpool’s artistic hub based at Edge Hill Train Station. Over the past 14 years, I’ve filmed a lot of dance rehearsals as well as live performances, and always found it frustratingly tricky to capture the energy, passion and movement within a 16:9 ratio. You can set things up specifically for the camera, plan and choreograph your shoot, but this loses the piece’s live edge.

It’s the same with theatre – filmed live shows rarely retain their energy, unless you specifically stage them for the camera, as you’re always working around the audience, technical and front of house teams in order to cause as little disruption to the live show as possible. Often, this means the camera remains in a static, fixed position.

Camera Moves aims to to break down some of the barriers faced when filming live work using software called Isadora. The interactive media playback programme lets filmmakers create stunning audiovisual effects in real-time, and can be adapted to alter with each viewing. By working directly with the performers, I am opening up the filmmaking process, so that what is usually hidden becomes part of the piece. It becomes about collaboration and chance connection. It becomes about energy and experimentation.

I’ve been working with Jennie Hale, a dance artist with TACITURN, to develop the idea using a series of workshops with different groups, some of whom Jennie already been works with in her role at MDI.

To begin with, we weren’t quite sure what people would make of the idea; it’s an odd pairing of two very different disciplines and quite difficult to describe, but once we’d created a few visual tests, it was easier for people to understand the process.

We’ve worked with three completely different groups so far: Men! Dancing!, 50 Moves, and a group of 5 people from an open call. Each group has brought new perspectives to the project, and we learned that sometimes it’s better to focus on one or two people rather than trying to film everything. Sometimes in dance, stillness can be powerful.

We also discovered that shouting “ACTION” made the concentration level in the room palpable!

At the end of the session, footage from up to seven cameras was added to the computer, revealing lots of unplanned and beautiful moments. We’d initially aimed to keep all the cameras in sync, but sometimes they were slightly out and this actually added to the overall viewing experience, with slight repeats and delays highlighting various moments of movement and interaction.

The next phase in the project may involve choreographing a specific piece around this technique of recording-meets-performance, and we’re also keen to showcase some of footage we’ve captured so far (perhaps at a live music event where each clip will be chosen by the rhythm of the live soundtrack, creating a looping performance installation).

Join in the final open workshop this Thursday at MDI (FREE, places limited).