Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shirley Clark’s Moment in Love

Shirley Clark and Anna Sokolow Moment in Love

1957/8, color, sound,design, directed and edited by Shirley Clarke, choreographer: Anna Sokolow, dancers: Carmela Gutierrez, Paul Sanasardo. Music: Norman Lloyd, Production: Halcyon films

In this post I look at the art of dance and film, Shirley Clark and Anna Sokolow’s Moment in Love from Shirley Clark’s Dances for the Camera. I offer that Moment in Love is about the dialectic of the struggle between the male and female, and their classes, which fuels the most interesting aspect of the film, the “dance” between these two opposing forces.

I think it is important to discuss what first struck me about this piece, how I reacted to the superficial structure of the piece. What initially struck me as interesting in the Sokolow and Clark piece was the indefinably of the subject matter. At first, I really had the feeling that the two artists were touching on and commenting on an archetypal idea, the idea of love and it’s qualities, but after several views, other feelings arose. For example, the use of color, layering, and solarization brought up ideas of death and blood, as well as futility and fleetingness, all of which seemed to complicate my first impression.

Before moving forward I must relay that the dance for camera piece Moment in Love was thoughtfully choreographed and filmed. No words needed to be said that were not already better said through the dance. The interaction between the two dancers/characters seemed natural and unaffected, as was the movement. There was not an overwhelming sense of political or social commentary in the piece, allowing it to transcend its historical nature and to be valid fifty years after its creation.

The free quality of the movement made the lovers seem totally available to the discovery of their feelings for each other. The timelessness in the piece suggests freedom; freedom from the worries of the day-to-day minutia. The film begins with two lovers cavorting on green pastures and on top of the world – literally dancing in the clouds. The movement is grounded in modern dance with a very ballet feel, though more loosely executed. They linger and love, dance and woo. One truly gets the feeling that real life does not exist and the day-to-day is this joyous play.

Then the young man appears in the rubble of a dilapidated city. The woman he loves is in the window of a building high above the young man, brushing her hair in a lovely shift. There is a distinct feeling of class separation, the man is standing in the rubble gazing up towards the woman existing above him. He begins to look abject and wanders by himself for a time, an apparition of the woman appears before him in the rubble, then disappears as if she were a fantasy, a faraway untouchable dream.

The young woman then appears in the flesh and they run off together, the coloring of the film then changes to a deep passionate red. They dance as if they are seducing the other and something akin to an explicit love scene takes place. Shirley Clark uses filmic editing to make it appear as if the two dancers were actually merging with each other and the red atmospheric glow that surrounds them. The next scene shows them having to part and one never knows whether their love affair lives on or if it is truly just a moment in love as the title suggests.

As the dancers were moving, the camera not only follows them but exceeds and breaks their trajectories. It manipulates their perceptible movements to such an extent that the dancers appear to be gliding among the clouds, suspended in endless and even supernatural bliss. As Clarke herself explains: "I started choreographing the camera as well as the dancers in the frame". With bright, lustrous tone, Clarke goes beyond subjective camera work to the point that her camera becomes subject itself.

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