Alex: Morphing Screen Dance with Fashion & Scripted Film Genre

 In Lens on Screendance

As the genre of Screen Dance grows and evolves internationally, I am continually amazed by how new forms seem to appear simultaneously from some indefinable zeitgeist.  During my tenure at Dance Camera West, I remember at least two years running during the early 2000s in which seemingly every other dance short submitted from near and far used an abandoned or dilapidated building as a location – a by now familiar visual trope. More recently there seems to be an increasing number of thrilling site-specific dance shorts filmed within astonishing architectural or natural geographical locations. Using the angles and levels of buildings, rock formations of varying heights, or huge expanses of land with extreme weather such as wind and snowstorms, they explore distance, scale, earth, and sky with movement, camera, and editing seemingly to underscore a sense of the comparative insignificance of humanity within the grand scheme of things.

And then, of course, there have been the recent plethora of dance films created remotely, collaboratively, and very necessarily by choreographers and companies trying to stay afloat through the Pandemic.  With everyone self-filming from the confines and safety of their own homes, what was explored in these films and seemed at first a great adaptation of form and context – all those vertical zoom boxes that simultaneously underscored both isolation and togetherness – soon began to weigh heavy. Not to mention the zoom adapted dance classes for art academies, dance schools, and colleges alike. In short, I began noticing that there is a general burnout for dance on screen – a three-dimensional art form being communicated on a two-dimensional platform.  It seems would-be viewers are increasingly burned out and tuning out, and as a result, I worry about the genre of Screen Dance itself.

So when a short film comes out that cleverly incorporates the traditions of a scripted, psychological drama and fashion film with dance, it’s worth noting and gives cause for hope. Heralding from Italy, Alex, is such a film. Written and beautifully directed by Luca Spreafico with lovely choreography by Olivia Luccini, it mixes fashion and site-specific dance within an ornately decorated, historical villa set in the Lombard region of Italy, while exploring the psychological effects of trauma.

We see the young woman Alex, being questioned sympathetically by an older EMDR therapist, about a traumatizing childhood memory.  Via the therapist’s questions, we are lead into flashbacks of a much younger Alex, reclining on the sofa watching cartoons when suddenly the lights blackout and young Alex cries out for her mother with increasing urgency. What ensues is Alex the elder ultimately coming to terms with the trauma, reliving it again as her older self, with dance as the language of her exploration.

As a dance film, Alex succeeds at once as narrative and dream-like and gives me hope that the genre of Screen Dance will soon morph to include narrative feature-length projects with little to no spoken word. The cinematography by Alessandro Ubaldi is gorgeous and really explores the villa while getting inside of the dance, and the psychology of Alex is beautifully portrayed by dancer/actress Silvia Bonavigo, as is the impeccably believable therapist Eugenia Caruso.

Maybe (probably?), the screen burnout is temporary. It’s likely we are all just yearning to be back again watching dance in community… a night out at the theater celebrating life and the magnificence of live dance, an art form only meant to be augmented by screen dance, which in my humble estimation, continues to hold power as an art form in its own right.

In either case, the elegant short dance film Alex is a compelling reason to continue to celebrate the genre of Screen Dance. Alex has been selected by more than 25 international festivals and has received 10 nominations and 5 wins including Best Actress at A Shaded View on Fashion Film, Best International Fashion Film at Buenos Aires Fashion Film Festival and Best Performance at Canadian Fashion Film Festival.

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