Like music, dance is a language that exists before and beyond the structure of words and grammar. It can be at once instinctive, imaginative, and visceral. For me personally, dance is often at its best when it occurs without even the construct of an established movement genre, and when it displays a very thin line between the formal and the pedestrian. And when dance meets the medium of film, an art form that is perhaps closest to our own dreams in that it can cross boundaries of time, space, and the laws of physics, the magical and the familiar unite to create a new language that we understand intuitively and immediately.
Such is the case with Edging Normal, the most recent film in Jacob Jonas the Company’s new dance film series simply called Films.Dance. Presented in partnership with Somewhere Magazine and co-presented by the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts/CSUN, the series features 15 films created with 150 artists shot in 25 countries over the course of the pandemic, with a new film screening every week, completely gratis. It is a remarkable endeavor, launched at a time when the medium of dance needs the medium of film more than ever.
I had a chance to speak to Jacob Jonas about the series and this film. Edging Normal, described as “a metaphorical tale of a man’s struggle to shed his past in order to feel completely free,” features the acclaimed dancer, choreographer and co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the stunning Desmond Richardson. What struck me immediately was the movement. Choreographed by Jacob Jonas at the invitation of Richardson himself, it is at once incredibly dynamic, subtle, and volatile. The movement succeeds as being what Jonas describes as both “emotionally explosive” and pedestrian – displaying a restraint that is distinctly different in form from his more athletic blend of contemporary and street dance forms. Jonas was curious to see what it would be like to work with someone who is such a masterful technician, and both he and Richardson wanted to explore “movement that is more psychological than movement based.” Jonas was interested in trying to “de-balletisize” Richardson’s traditional movement to find movement that was more “ugly.” In doing so, Jonas found something that I always respond to and regularly search for: the beauty in the ugliness.
Of course, there is nothing whatsoever ugly about the movement or the film. Beautifully directed by Andre Bato, Edging Normal features striking cinematography by Arseni Khachaturan (my only wish is that they had used a little less smoke). As it opens we see Richardson seated in a forest at night. The first several minutes of the film go from close ups to close medium shots of Richardson, apparently locked in an internal struggle, with minimal yet dynamically human movement happening with just his head and upper body. As the first notes of a stunning score by Grammy Award winning saxophonist Dave Koz and composer Steve Hackman unfold, in one of the most physically robust movements Richardson executes, he reclines, rod straight and parallel to the ground on the stool on which he is seated. The restraint in and the camera’s proximity to the movement in the opening frames may never have been arrived at if it had not been for the process, wherein all rehearsals were remote and happening on Zoom, a space that Jonas described as wanting to physically explore in rehearsals. And then there is the lighting. The forest shifts from darkness to light, and at times is so bright that it looks to be daylight. Created by a “drone light” – a completely new concept developed by a friend of Bato – clearly to great success in this endeavor.
Edging Normal, a title arrived at by director and dancer in collaboration, is intended as “a pursuit to escape normality.” The title is beyond appropriate for these times wherein nothing is normal at all, and dance and film – aided by this series – begin to further defy their original documentation based relationship to reinforce the genre of Screen Dance as an art form in its own right.
In December 2019, DIYdancer featured Jacob Jonas the Company, among twelve L.A. artists, in a mesmerizing photo essay contributed by Jacob Jonas for Issue 03: SEEN UnSeen. Buy the issue in print or download it here.