As a dance student at Bowling Green State University, I had the honor of training under Tammy Metz-Starr, an artist who has had a strong involvement in the creation of and performance in dance films. As a well-respected and influential teacher, Starr has been the perfect advocate for the development of this under-explored art form. In addition to teaching dance technique classes, Starr has started teaching a technological dance production class at the university. This allows students to learn more about the opportunities that advances in technology gives to them as performers and artists.
Starr attended Kent State University as a major of secondary math education and a minor in dance performance. She traveled to Hawaii to receive her Masters of Fine Arts in performance and choreography, with an emphasis in Asian movement forms and technology. This is where she began to learn about montage.
While in Hawaii she performed with the Iona Pear Company, and trained under Cheryl Flaherty. Performing with the Iona Pear Company, Starr developed her skills in Asian movement and modern dance technique.
She went on to perform with the Steve Brown Dance Theater and The Ririe-Woodburry Company. Her experience with these companies allowed her to develop a strong repertoire of modern technique.
Although she says the companies had very different vocabularies, and the level of strict conventionalism differed greatly, the overall combination of performance approaches were very similar. Starr has developed a very strong presence on the stage, and she teaches her students to achieve that same degree of presence and perfection.
When I asked Tammy Metz-Starr to discuss the art of dance films, she was quite enthusiastic. As a teacher, she has always had the ability to motivate and inspire me greatly. She has a well-spoken manner that can make two hours of bouncing around the stuffy dance studio, sweaty and sore, seem like the most significant two hours of your life. Because of her impressive educational background and diverse performance history, her thoughts on dance films were also incredibly interesting and motivational.
One of he most interesting ideas she brought up, which had also been rattling around in my head for the past few weeks, was“are dance films an example of dancing, filmmaking, or some combination of the two that which forms an entirely new form of art?” The way she broke it down was by classifying the different reasons for filming dance.
For the Bowling Green University Performers, as well as any other company, the issue of documentation is very important. Schools, studios, and professional companies will all rehearse and prepare for the final product: a show, recital, or some form of demonstration. To make sure that all the sweat and tears that went into the preparation of such an endeavor are not wasted and or forgotten, a tangible copy of it is a must. However, these films are nothing more than a camera set out in the audience, capturing what any audience member can see from a single perspective. There is not much art involved with this form, although it is important just the same.
Another category dance films can fall into is publicity. Many companies, including ones Tammy Metz-Starr has been involved with, create films in order to publicize their company. These films usually have a professional look, usually artistically done and always with promotional intent. For a better understanding of this category, I viewed a promotional demonstration tape Starr had done with the Ririe-Woodburry Dance Company in Salt Lake City. This film had many artistic qualities that I appreciated, as well as a clear intent to present the dancers as talented performers with marketing value. By filming the dancers at different speeds, cutting to and from different locations, and shifting from black and white to color, the filmmakers created an environment that otherwise could not have been achieved. The camera was able to catch close ups of the dancers faces, then there would be a cut out to a city landscape, then a cut back to the dancers moving across the top of a building. In our interview Starr joked about having dancers appear on the beaches of Hawaii, then cutting to send them straight to the Eva Marie Saint Theater on the Bowling Green campus. There were times in the promotional film that the camera would freeze frame, capturing the dancer in a beautiful pose, then instantly cut to an entirely different person and location. This created an interesting montage of images in a small amount of time, to create an experience that would not be possible without film techniques. The promotional dance in film piece presented the dance company cinematically, which gave them the best exposure possible.
As the years go on and technology continues to develop, there will always be a place for dance films in world of creation. Looking back to the simplest form, two bodies in motion, to quote Ben Affleck from the film Boiler Room, “motion creates emotion.” Well that it did, and audiences were moved by this image. Moved so much that the image has stayed around and will remain throughout time.
Whatever the intent or reason, the body in motion is a meaningful form of expression, which can be perfectly captured and beautifully manipulated by the power of cinema. But just as any developing idea, exposure is the fuel that gives it energy to grow. So, it is important for filmmakers and dancers to maintain the momentum and continue to be amazed by the Busby Berkeley’s, intrigued by the Maya Derens, and learn from the Tammy Metz-Starrs, so that we can aspire to be the next contributors to the world of dance films.