En Solitaire – (Solo)

An experimental study of solo movement inspired by Norman McLaren’s Pas de Deux (1968)

En Solitaire is a creative work that has been created in response to a film that is considered by many to be a masterpiece of early experimental animation. Pas de Deux created in 1968 by Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren is a technically complex, yet visually powerful exploration of time and movement. This film encapsulates the driving concerns McLaren’s animation practice, his vast body of work results from a prolific career (spanning nearly 40 years and more than 30 films) as an innovative experimental filmmaker. His methodologies and outcomes not only shaped the world of experimental film and animation but spoke to his audiences on a deep level. (Collins,1976). Pas de Deux (meaning “dance for two” or “duet”) featuring multilayered, shimmering visual representations of two dancers in a constant flux of movement is “…an extraordinary success on three levels – aesthetic, sensual and intellectual.” (National Film Board of Canada, 1971-72). In approaching the creation of my short experimental study of solo movement I have dissected Pas de Deux using my own observations and have referred to numerous reviews of the work as well as McLaren’s own technical notes and interviews. I have used this analysis to identify key elements as starting points for my exploration. These elements also became guides in my decision-making process and influenced the various methodologies that unfolded throughout my creative process.

Pas de Deux

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Pas de Deux “…portrays two figures in high-contrast lit black and white, moving expressively to the strains of the Romanian Folk Orchestra”. McLaren’s process was experimental “…utilising an optical printer to replicate the image, making the dancers move ahead and behind themselves, their movements slurring and blurring as they move their way between still held poses”. (Hoile, 2012). This effect created a remarkable ethereal quality. Two dancers appear in a suspended time-based reality, as their sequence of movement is broken down into a succession of replicated moments at varying intervals throughout the film. They appear to dance ‘into’ and ‘out’ of themselves at points along the chronological sequence of the duet. “The past and the future that were inherent in the dancers’ movements are drawn forth and displayed side-by-side”. (Melvillan, 2010, p. 2). The result is a blurred representation of two bodies moving through space and time. “By printing the negative in multiple images with each frame introduced up to eleven times, McLaren captured movement just passed and movement yet to come in a most aesthetically pleasing flow of shimmering motion” (Elliot, 1971, p. 44). The bodies themselves at times begin to transform into ‘winged’ or multi-limbed forms. It appears as though time has been slowed down, and as a result, the viewer is able to gain a different knowledge or understanding of time and movement.

mclaren1 pasdedeux

Still images from Pas de Deux by Norman McLaren (1968).

Time

McLaren was interested in the notion of the viewer’s perception of time, and how our experience of the passage of time can be altered by the filmic representation of a sequence of images. Pas de Deux accents the visual appeal of the choreography, but also generates a ‘new choreography’ – that of a new representation of images in ‘film time’. “By using as many as ten multiple exposures per frame, McLaren shapes each movement into a fantasy of his own creation”. (Collins,1976, p.16). The organization of images in Pas de Deux is reminiscent of the chronophotographic sensibilities of the early pioneers of motion pictures Edward Muybridge and Étiene Jules-Marey. Their work sought to “capture and display the stages that comprise the continuum of movement”. (Bukatman, 2006, p. 87). They were the first to experiment with recording sequential movement and showing that time could in a sense be ‘fractured’. (p.89)
McLaren’s interest in similar concepts informed his highly innovative technical process and indeed the outcome of Pas de Deux. In the context of the period (late 1960’s) in which the film was produced, the technical process would have been a lengthy one. In his technical notes McLaren explains:
“To create the multiple image, we exposed this high contrast positive many times successively on to our new optical negative. The same shot was exposed on itself, but each time delayed or staggered by a few frames. Thus, when the dancers were completely at rest, these successive out-of-step exposures would all be on top of each other, creating the effect of one normal image; but when the dancers started to move, each exposure would start moving a little later than the preceding one, thus creating the effect of multiplicity.“ (National Film Board of Canada, 2003, p. 85)

idris-khan 10marey

Early chronophotographs of photographer Étiene Jules-Marey.

Movement

McLaren states; “Movies move! How it moves is as important as what moves.” (McLaren, National Film Board of Canada, 2006, p. 16) This can certainly be identified as a key aspect of Pas de Deux. As a viewer I became fascinated not only by the form and shape of the body, but more interestingly, the way in which the bodies progressed through their chain of movements. In other words, McLaren found a way to accentuate and illuminate, not just the dancers’ movement, but also their movement pathways. As a young man Norman McLaren was interested in painting however when he discovered the film medium he found that “Not only could his film-paintings have those dimensions of duration and movement which are missing from static art, but also they could move through space, which McLaren found extremely kinetic”. (Elliot, 1971). I am interested in the idea that as viewers of film and live theatre we experience different sensations than can be experienced in everyday life. In describing his films in general; “The McLaren films have a marvelous relation to a kinesthetic experience, like dance, a marvelous sense of duration, plus a kind of muscular thing where they speak to your muscles almost directly through the eye and not the head” (National Film Board of Canada, 2006, p. 16).

En Solitaire

En Solitaire – (Solo) from Elise May on Vimeo.

The film I have created, En Solitaire (meaning ‘Solo’) has been influenced by the concepts of time and movement explored in relation to McLaren’s creative process. I have used the video editing program Adobe Final Cut Pro to organise my footage in a computer based non-destructive editing environment. McLaren used film stock, a much more labor-intensive task; however the processes employed to create the effect are essentially the same. Within the linear sequence I layered up to eleven layers of the duplicate moving images on top of one another (see screen shot below), each one slightly offset in relation to the next, to achieve the effect. At times I varied the intervals (as did McLaren), to achieve a variety of effects. I also varied the number of duplicate layers. I noticed that the spacing of the intervals did not necessarily dictate the clarity in the movement pathways. For example, the smaller the interval, the more obvious the ‘trail’ of bodies and limbs through the space, however larger intervals could also achieve an interesting effect when applied to the right movement. Careful selection of the choreography was important. Which sections to ‘animate’, according to their inherent qualities of speed, duration and spatial direction became significant decisions. After doing a couple of tests I also came to understand which movements were more successful than others. In creating the choreography I generally found that simple clean movements worked best, as did movements that focused on the full range of motion of the limbs and torso.

timeline

A screen shot from the En Solitaire Adobe Final Cut Pro project.

When reading about Pas de Deux I came across this review and it significantly influenced my approach:
“Using multiple exposures of backlit dancers moving in a void of blackness, it presents those dancers to us as reflections of themselves, as shadows of themselves, and finally as continuous pluralities. As dancers’ glistening white outlines pile atop one another the film abstracts away from our notions of a body’s physicality and self-identity; the dancers cease to be things and are dissolved into pure motion”. (Melvillan, 2010, p. 2)

Whilst informed by McLarens’ technical process to achieve the effects that he created in Pas de Deux, I also wanted to capture some of the inherent qualities of the film. Rather than aiming to replicate his ideas I wanted to use them as stimulus for my film. Using the idea that the body could move into and out of itself, appearing to move forward and backwards ‘through time’ I was able to shift and abstract the body, it’s physicality and it’s identity from being something purely physical into something more metaphysical or transcendent. This information also influenced my use of a black and white/ sepia tones and also the use of shadow. There were no shadows in McLaren’s film but here in my solo experiment I chose to accentuate the dark shadowy quality, suggesting an ambiguity between the body and it’s shadow – at times the shadow disappearing completely as I leant against the wall.
Music also plays a big role in enhancing the qualities of the work. McLaren was heavily influenced by music. When asked what stimulated and encouraged him, he said “I listened to music a lot of the time and forms suggested themselves in motion to me just naturally while listening to the music”. (McWilliams, 1969). I chose the accompanying piece of music by electronic composer ‘Murcof’ because I felt it matched the fractured, tonal and temporal qualities of the imagery, and suggested a sense of space and movement.

Conclusion

There is no doubt McLaren pushed the boundaries of animation. His personal definition of animation states: “Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn; What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame; Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames.” (Furniss, 1998, p. 5). With this in mind I have created a short film that has used some of the key questions that emerged from my analysis of McLaren’s animation practice and in particular the driving concerns of his film Pas de Deux, and I have used them as stimulus for my exploration.

References

Bukatman, S. (2006). Comics and the Critique of Chronophotography, or ‘He Never Knew When It Was Coming!’ London, Sage Publications.

Collins, M. (1976). Norman McLaren. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Film Institute.

Elliott, L. (1971). Norman McLaren: The Gentle Genius of The Screen. Reader’s Digest, (1971).

Furniss, M. (1998). Art in motion: Animation aesthetics. Sydney: John Libbey.

Holier, P. (2012). Norman McLaren: The Master’s Edition. Zap! Bang! Magazine. Retrieved 28 August 2012 from http://www.zapbangmagazine.com/film/features/norman-mclaren

Jordan, W. (1953). Norman McLaren: His Career and Techniques. The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television Vol. 8, No. 1 (Autumn, 1953), pp. 1-14 Published by: University of California Press Retrieved on 1 October, 2012 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1209909

Laybourne, K. (1979). The animation book: A complete guide to animated filmmaking: From flip-books to sound cartoons. New York: Crown Publishers.

Melvillan. (2010). WordPress blog Existentialism is a Film; Pas de Deux (McLaren, 1968): Zeno’s Paradox and the Experience of Motion. Retrieved 25 August, 2012 from
http://melvillian.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/pas-de-deux/mclaren

Mc Williams, D. (1969). Talking to a great film artist – Norman McLaren. McGill Reporter, 1(35).

National Film Board of Canada (2003). Norman McLaren: On The Creative Process. [Video/DVD] Harrington Park, NJ: Milestone Film and Video.

National Film Board of Canada (2006). Norman McLaren: The Master’s Edition. [Video/DVD] Montréal: KOCH Vision

National Film Board of Canada, (1971-72). Film Catalogue.

Russett, R. and Starr, C. (1976). Experimental animation: An illustrated anthology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.

Master of Arts Research

Research Areas of Interest

– Interdisciplinary collaboration
– Dance and animation shared languages and collaborative framework
– The body as site of narrative potential
– How cinematic/digital media handling techniques can be translated and transposed onto the body
– Performative authenticity and clarity of visual communication
– Using spatial, site-specific, digital and filmic techniques to inform the choreographic process

filmstrip

Current perceptions and generalised observations from within the art form suggest that a dance work is a singular creative entity, product or source of creative output. It may be possible to expand this perception and suggest rather, that dance works can exist in a multiple of forms, across a variety of platforms, each bringing new facets of the work to light, both expanding the possibilities and contextual nuances of a work.

By taking a less traditional and more diverse approach to creative production, a dance work or choreographic/ theatrical enquiry may be re-created across multiple allied platforms such as installation, dance on screen, dance documentation, and stage/ proscenium theatre based work however yet remain dedicated to a singular cohesive work or idea or body of work. A shift of thinking in the field may encourage artists to consider more diverse approaches to creation, thereby extending the life of works, and generating processes by which artistic products can be distributed and/or viewed by more diverse audiences.

Intersecting Lenses – My Interpretive Paradigm

Through which lens do I look towards my research in dance and digital media? As artist and human being I embody a multitude of interpretive perspectives.

Email Oral Pres

Copyright © Elise May 2012

Refferences:
Denzin, N & Lincoln Y (2OOO). The Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif
Gray,C & Malins J (2OO4). Visualising research: a guide to the research process in art & designAldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate
Lazaridis, F. (2O12) Between authenticity and artifice: push 2O12, vancouver realtime + onscreen, open city, Sydney rt1O8 pp12-13
Schon, D (1983). The reflective pratitioner: how professionals think in action. Basic Books, New York
Stock, C.,Philips, M & Vincs, K. (2OO9). Dancing the Thesis: Potential and Pitfalls in Practice-Led Research In Re-Searching Dance: International Conference on Dance Research, New Delhi. pp53-59.
Haseman B. and Mafe, D. (2OO9). Acquiring Know-How: Research Training for Practice-led Researchers. In Smith, H & R.T. Dean (Eds). Research-led practice and practice-led research Edinbururgh University

Complexity of Practice

Practice-led Research

To view the overarching context of this research, here is a quick snapshot of the many roles of which I have developed throughout my career as a dance artist:

Dancer / Performer / Soloist
Choreographer / Collaborator
Video Artist / Documenter
Independent Artist
Designer / Conceptualiser
Writer / Researcher

My research will be informed by a practice-led enquiry, open to interdisciplinary exchange, drawing on reflective observation and practical investigations in the form of installations, collaborations, screen dance and live performance works.

As a dance practitioner, making a living depends on creative “product” being generated often at the expense of a fully realised creative process. The pressures of the industry including time restraints and funding etc… often necessitate a streamlined approach to the creation of work. One of my research objectives is to lead an investigation which process driven, an opportunity to invite reflection analysis and contextual review into my practice. I am looking to deepen my understanding of the form, my working processes, the industry, modes of creation and the contextual underpinnings of my work. I am interested in being less outcome driven, in terms of presentation and production value, however that said, I hope that the “re-versioned”, multi-faceted
creative works will provide

a) practical contextual application for my research,
b) a body of work which is of high quality, contributes to the growing body of knowledge within the industry and shows clear conceptual innovation and merit.

I am looking towards a sustainable career as an artist, and I would like to find deeper connections to the form, acquire new processes, skills,audiences for my work, and career opportunities through my participation in this research.

 Artist as Bricoleur

Bricoleur

Research Methods

In my research I will draw down on these areas of interest and ongoing development within my practice to guide a practice-led enquiry. As researcher, I will continue to do what I have always done as artist – to interrogate and question my working processes through practice and turn these findings into research:

Methods

My research methods will consist of practice-led investigations through my studio practice and contextual reviews. I will site previous relevant research, current and future creative works as ‘case studies’ to ground my investigation and provide a context for my written thesis. I anticipate that my research and written reflection/ analysis will “co-exist” running parallel to my practice, informed by my practical investigations. Likewise I hope that my studio practice will be informed by my research objectives.

Research Methodologies
Methodologies
I would like to structure my research in such a way that reflection, discussion and articulation of key concepts are built into the process, and that there are points throughout the duration of the research where evaluation and reassessment of the key research objectives are revisited, reviewed and re-framed in order to move forward.

Research Design Graph

Copyright © Elise May 2012

Refferences:
Denzin, N & Lincoln Y (2OOO). The Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif
Gray,C & Malins J (2OO4). Visualising research: a guide to the research process in art & designAldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate
Lazaridis, F. (2O12) Between authenticity and artifice: push 2O12, vancouver realtime + onscreen, open city, Sydney rt1O8 pp12-13
Schon, D (1983). The reflective pratitioner: how professionals think in action. Basic Books, New York
Stock, C.,Philips, M & Vincs, K. (2OO9). Dancing the Thesis: Potential and Pitfalls in Practice-Led Research In Re-Searching Dance: International Conference on Dance Research, New Delhi. pp53-59.
Haseman B. and Mafe, D. (2OO9). Acquiring Know-How: Research Training for Practice-led Researchers. In Smith, H & R.T. Dean (Eds). Research-led practice and practice-led research Edinbururgh University

The Intersection Point

I am also interested in methods of creation and documentation such as “re-working”, working with a series based approach, or “re-versioning”, a term used to describe a process whereby digital information may be copied from one platform to another without corrupting the original coded content. (Howkins, John (2001) The Creative Economy). These models invite interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to dance-based work, but also focus on the empowerment of the artist or creative practitioner, whereby a choreographer can ‘up- skill’ and diversify their knowledge base in areas where dance & movement knowledge is transferable and is an asset, and can be used to develop an interdisciplinary vocabulary and expand the possible audiences, networks and contexts for their work.
Reversioning

 The Authenticity Question

I have long felt that there is an element within the contemporary dance form, of the self-indugent. In a reaction against this sensibility that I have witnessed both as audience member and also as performer/ choreographer, I am joining a long list of artists and researchers who have questioned and attempted to reveal the nature of ‘authenticity’. I believe there a few different perspectives of this question:

Authenticity

Intersection Point:

In forming a research question I take these three areas of questioning from my practice, and identify the overlapping concerns. The tiny point of chartered knowledge is what I am referring to as the point of  intersection:

Graph

? = New Knowledge?

This is where I anticipate that I will unearth valuable new perspectives resulting from the multiple lines of questioning triangulated with very individual findings investigated through practice-led enquiry. Furthering this quest for new knowledge, the unique perspectives that will arise from a collaborative relationship with fellow researcher and animator Paul VanOpdenbosch  will fuel the development of the research.

Graph with Animation

Copyright © Elise May 2012

Refferences:
Denzin, N & Lincoln Y (2OOO). The Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif
Gray,C & Malins J (2OO4). Visualising research: a guide to the research process in art & designAldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate
Lazaridis, F. (2O12) Between authenticity and artifice: push 2O12, vancouver realtime + onscreen, open city, Sydney rt1O8 pp12-13
Schon, D (1983). The reflective pratitioner: how professionals think in action. Basic Books, New York
Stock, C.,Philips, M & Vincs, K. (2OO9). Dancing the Thesis: Potential and Pitfalls in Practice-Led Research In Re-Searching Dance: International Conference on Dance Research, New Delhi. pp53-59.
Haseman B. and Mafe, D. (2OO9). Acquiring Know-How: Research Training for Practice-led Researchers. In Smith, H & R.T. Dean (Eds). Research-led practice and practice-led research Edinbururgh University