Section: Arts

Review: DANCE@30FPS highlights power of dance on film

On Friday night, the Kenyon Department of Dance, Drama and Film hosted a screening of the 2024 lineup of Dance at 30 Frames per Second (DANCE@30FPS), a dance-film festival sponsored by the Ohio State University. Before the screening at the Community Foundation Theater, I was convinced I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to be reviewing the event — I know nothing about dance technique and quit ballet at the ripe age of six. Yet by the end of the first short film, I found myself thinking that it would be difficult to condense all my thoughts into one review. With seven films ranging from under three minutes to 15 minutes in length, DANCE@30FPS blew away the audience — from dance students to the uninitiated dance-ignorant, like myself.

Before the screening began, Momar Ndiaye, the advisor of DANCE@30FPS and an assistant professor of dance at Ohio State University, and Kierra Williams, one of the event’s curators and dance MFA student, provided some insight into the selection process for the festival. “One of the major and important questions is, ‘What am I proposing? Can it exist outside of the screen?’ If the response is yes, you have to go redo it because dance film is meant to only exist for the screen,” Ndiaye said.

Williams explained that for the 2024 festival, DANCE@30FPS received over 200 submissions from all over the world. Along with six other student curators, Williams sifted through the films to create a shortlist of finalists for consideration. Then Ndiaye helped to narrow the list down to the 11 films shown at the festival, seven of which were shown at the Kenyon screening. The lineup of films from the Russian Federation, China, Greece, the United States and France brought an incredible array of cultures, styles and themes together.

The first film, “Let’s call it a tie,” directed by Maya Selezneva, launched us directly into a white-tie dinner party whose frenzied near-manic energy quickly builds. The graceful, fluid movements of the dinner attendees become tense and desperate as, one by one, a faceless dancer takes control of their bodies. Guest after guest is taken over by this force until only one independent person remains. The lone young woman managed to emphasize the lines of her dancer’s body even as she flitted around the room in a frantic effort to escape the threat. “Let’s call it a tie” also impressed me with its sound design and cinematography. The music and rhythmic clattering of the silverware added to my sense of dread as the tight camera angles kept the danger just out of sight.

Every film brought a new and dazzling story to the screen, but, for me, the highlight of the screening was “topia,” directed by Jessie Lee Thorne. As a statement on technology and its negative impact on our ability to build community and connect with one another, “topia” uses film clips, dance and liminal spaces to remind us of the importance of coming together face-to-face. “topia” opens with a shot of people in a movie theater, each sitting alone, as they are entranced by the fast-paced allure of a film. Their eyes are glassy and glued to the screen as they all eat the popcorn in sync, seemingly more machine than human. They watch themselves on screen, and it seems as if they will go on sitting forever if no outside force intervenes. Then one man, who entered the theater late, seems to recognize that they are all trapped in a daze of isolation. The man’s movements slowly morph into dance, and one woman copies his motions, slowly emerging from her trance. The two slowly work to rescue the others in the theater until they are all alive with movement. As each person comes back to themselves, they dance in different styles and places that seem to reflect their personalities and personhood before joining up with the rest of the group. The masterful closing shot of “topia” depicts the group dancing together in an idyllic meadow with no technology in sight, making me question my relationship to my phone.

“topia’s” message serves as an excellent representation of the DANCE@30FPS festival and mission. Using the power of film, DANCE@30FPS is a collection of stories told through the movement of our bodies that reminded me of the world around me and my place within it. In a short Q&A session after the film, when asked who the intended audience of these films was, Ndiaye responded “Everybody. Filmmakers, non-filmmakers, dancers, non-dancers, students, non-students. It’s really open…To me, a work is successful only when it can touch everybody.”

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