A Review of the ‘Worse of the Best’ at Kinetic Cinema

Latika Young of the Dance Films Association wrote a great article about Kriota Willberg’s last program for Kinetic Cinema in DFA’s member ezine:

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The Worst of the Best:
Kinetic Cinema Gets Down

by Latika Young

Before
taking a hiatus for the summer, Kinetic Cinema, the dance films
screening series curated by Anna Brady Nuse, went out with a bang! “The
Worst of the Best,” a night of “bad” dance film, as selected by guest
curator Kriota Willberg, featured an array of clips and excerpts that
had the audience at Tribeca’s Collective:Unconscious in stitches. With everything
from undulating nude males to jete-ing serial killers to an
over-the-top 80s spandex extravaganza, there was something in the
selection to please even the most well-versed bad dance connoisseur.

The
night began with a little live dance, as Nuse exploded onto the
stage in a frenetic version of the classic dance from “Flashdance”
complete with gold metallic hot pants and matching shoes. A perfect
entrance, it warmed up the audience’s belly laughing muscles and set
the tone for an evening of the dance cliché as encapsulated on film.

Willberg,
co-director of THE BENTFOOTES, which premiered at Dance on Camera
Festival 2008, has been interested in bad dance for some time. She used
to host bad dance film screening parties at her apartment for fellow
dancer and choreographer friends (what better way to build a supportive
dance community–we may be struggling in our own careers, but at least
we are not making dance like that!).

Willberg
developed somewhat tricky criteria that determined her selections for
this “tour of surprisingly bad dance films from the early 1900s to the
present.” As she explains, there is a difference between “bad” dance
and just “boring” dance. Bad dance necessarily “provokes a strong
emotional reaction” in the audience, and, as Willberg points out, these
are more often than not the dances people end up discussing fervently
with friends. Boring dance, on the other hand, “is just dull” and is
easily forgotten. Where it gets tricky is with the question of
production values. For Willberg, even boring dance, with a big enough
budget, becomes bad dance by virtue of the unrealized potential of its
grandiosity. Any otherwise boring dance film with a large enough budget
enrages Willberg to the point that it has elicited a strong emotional
response and thus qualifies as a truly bad dance.

The
screening began with a video montage of clips culled from the internet
of dances intended to demonstrate “boring.” All low production value,
the clips may have come from YouTube or artists’ personal websites, but
they certainly were not from Hollywood blockbusters. The original
videos likely go on for what must feel like many very long minutes, but
edited down into a quickly paced montage, they were not really that
boring after all. Instead, the curatorial process of cramming them side
by side and positing them into humorously crafted sub-categories, such
as “Women and Their Hands,” “Semi-Clad Undulating Duets,” and my
personal favorite, “Nude Men Kinetically Recumbent,” highlighted their
humor rather than their boredom. Fortunately, though, the audience was
saved from having to watch any of the clips in their entirety. Anyone
who has sat on a dance film festival pre-screening committee can
undoubtedly understand.

The bulk of the
offerings, however, were clips from films released on the big screen
and each example was selected to provide a more nuanced understanding
of Willberg’s definition of bad. The gem of the night, glittering in
decadent ridiculousness, was Ben Hecht’s 1946 film SPECTRE OF THE ROSE.
Choreographed by Tamara Geva, Balanchine’s first wife, the two dance
scenes presented were performed by Ivan Kirov. An attempt to combine a
murder mystery with classical ballet, the result, at least to modern
eyes, comes across more as camp than refinement. In the first scene,
the male ballet superstar (Kirov) has been confined to bed for two
years after killing his first wife. Suddenly feeling better, he is
inspired to dance, performing ebullient feats of jete and pirouette
that are made that much more incredible (and farcical) considering his
extended period of inactivity (perhaps, instead, we should feel
relieved he did not join the ranks of the “kinetically recumbent nude
male” as we witnessed earlier). The second scene has our star
re-entering a state of insanity and struggling with his desires to kill
his second wife. Fortunately, derangement does not deter our
protagonist from his dancing tour de force and, with knife in hand, he
catapults about the room, balletically crashing into walls, before
leaping with pointed feet through a glass window, to his certain death
below. This is a bad dance film made so by both its delicious
anachronistic ballet moves (likely quite magnificent for the time but
which seem highly dated to the modern viewer) and its equally
ridiculous backstory.

Other choices
from the evening included THE MOTHERING HEART, the 1913 D.W. Griffith
film that features background dancers, undoubtedly quite common on the
vaudeville stage of the time, who appear as gallivanting
Isadora-nymphettes and a leopard skin toga-ed couple who awkwardly
perform Lindy aerial moves, STAYING ALIVE, the sequel to SATURDAY NIGHT
FEVER, as directed by Sylvester Stallone (and, yes, Travolta does wear
a very Rambo-eque headband), and scenes from the film everyone loves to
hate, Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 SHOWGIRLS, which is just bad in so many
divine ways.

Willberg wants to know,
“What is the worst dance film ever?” To share your favorites, or most
hated, e-mail her at info@duramater.org and be sure to tell her why.
After a summer break, Kinetic Cinema returns in October. E-mail Anna
Brady Nuse at mtf@straighttothehelicopter.com to get on the mailing list.

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This entry was posted in Kinetic Cinema, pop culture, screenings/events, theory/criticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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