Line Dances

Metro Cinema, Dunedin

10/10/2010 - 12/10/2010

Production Details

The public screening première, of choreographer and film maker Daniel Belton’s latest creation, Line Dances, will be a truly unique evening of dance-film and live music.

The dance-film features veteran New Zealand dancer Sir Jon Trimmer along with Daniel Belton, Donnine Harrison, Katie Hurst-Saxton, Emmett Hardie, and Courtney Poulier.

In a tribute to artist Paul Klee, Belton fuses Commedia characters and Acrobats with String Theory from quantum physics to create six cinematic journeys. Anthony Ritchie’s new music for keyboard, played live by Anthony, has been composed for the occasion. Line Dances pays homage to the visual arts, the kinetic arts and the theatre.

For three nights only at the Metro Cinema, Line Dances will appeal to lovers of dance, stage and screen.

Metro Cinema, Dunedin
10, 11, 12 October 2010

Also screening online at: (posting on Dance Tech pending as of 11 Oct 2010)  

Best viewed on its intended medium: the internet

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 11th Oct 2010

Line Dances is the latest collection of digitally processed films from the Dunedin-based sometime choreographer and dancer, Daniel Belton, and his production house Good Company.

One of the things I have always liked about Belton’s work is his relative disinterest in dance per se once it is transferred to the filmic media. As he observes in his suggestive program notes, taking choreographed material into the screen space makes it both highly “artificial” and “ties it strongly to graphic art.”

Key to this is the fact that film itself is principally an art of movement. What Belton does so well is to use materials derived from live shoots of dancing bodies as elements within a larger frame of agitated, mobile forms—particularly here lines, parabolas and simplified, vaguely modernistic sketches of possible architectural spaces and perspectival views.

With Line Dances, the term “dance film”—which has gained considerable international recognition over the last 20 years—does not really seem quite right. The bodies on display are usually dwarfed by the black backgrounds and shifting strings and curved arcs which cross around and about them. Figures are frequently multiplied in miniature form. Consequently it is rare that a single, a pair, or even a group, of dancing bodies act as a central focus of the work for an extended period. Rather, the more extended dramaturgical focus of these short pieces is one of a planar field within which these fragments spin and coalesce. 

Belton gives the early 20th century modernist painter Paul Klee as a major point of departure for the films, and one of Klee’s abstracted, geometric faces, containing some of the rare blocks of colour within this mostly black and white series of films, does appear.

Much of the iconography, and particularly that of the moving figures, seems on the whole closer to the early stop motion photography of Eadweard Muybridge, Georges Demenÿ and above all Étienne Jules Marey (see, as well as the Futurist photographers they inspired (Anton Bragaglia, etc). The use of bars, poles and various objects by figures or which simply float freely across the screen also recalls the work of Bauhaus artists, Oscar Schlemmer (Triadic Ballet), Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Constructivist theatre and art. Figures often appear dressed in black clothes with white lines running along their limbs such that multiple, blurred trajectories emerge as the exposure is left open whilst the figures move—a classic motif of Marey et al.

Like Anthony Ritchie’s piano accompaniment, which is more than slightly similar to the work of Erik Satie (notably Études and Vexations), Belton’s cinematic constructions and choreography all but destroys time. Materials do not move forward, nor do they actually repeat in measured sequences or in sustained, minimalistic plateaus. Rather blips and glitches recur. A line dips down, then up, then a half turn down, then the full way, and suddenly back to the start. Figures multiply to reappear in diminished forms above and below, like trees whose buds grow bodies which then expand and contract like flowers in moonlight. 

There is therefore a curious stasis to these films. Each contains an idea or thematic, which is then explored up, down, left and right, but never taken to an extreme rhythmically, harmonically (in Ritchie’s music) or conceptually. The material burbles and pulses, expands, contracts and then bleeds out at another margin, amoeboid like. 

Consequently, this set of seven short pieces function ultimately as studies in digital and visual adornment and decoration, rather than as narrative or structurally drawn out pieces in their own right.

These short films were shown in the Otago Festival as a single feature at Metro Cinemas. They were in fact produced to be watched at low resolution within QuickTime on a computer screen, with the viewer at his or her computer clicking one of the seven hyperlinks, gazing at the pop-up screen, and then perusing another.

This material is perfect for such a slightly distracted viewing space. If one misses a detail, it is relatively unimportant, because the films are not densely coded, and most elements recur in some manner or another elsewhere. I suspect this aesthetic would also work very well as a gallery display or installation, where protracted focused viewing is not well supported by peripheral noise, corridors arcing away from where one might stand, and other details.

It does however mean that Line Dances is not best served by the viewing environment provided by the Otago Festival. The digital files are played straight off a laptop and blown up, so the screen resolution is poor. Much of Belton’s imagery is hazy or misty in the first instance, so his chosen stylistic often hides this problem. It is nevertheless disappointing that a 1080p or more, high-definition (HD) file and projector was not sourced for what was, after all, the world premiere. 

The sound too suffers. Again, Belton often places Ritchie’s piano within a broader palette of digital sound and deliberately hissy textures so as to impart a sense of otherworldliness and age to his digital aesthetic. Still, the lack of clarity and the audible hiss (to say nothing of peripheral noise from outside the venue) was not as conducive to focussed enjoyment as I for one would have liked.

It was in this sense particularly disappointing that Belton had indeed gone to the extra trouble of having Ritchie himself play live in the space, but rather than integrating this into the screening, this acted as a slightly over-extended overture to the entirely pre-recorded playback material of the films.

Belton of course knows very well from his previous projects the enormous expense and extra equipment and rehearsal needed to properly combine live performance in the viewing space by musicians and/or performers with pre-recorded audiovisual material. 

Even so, having missed Soundings at the 2000 Festival, it was unfortunate that Belton did not manage to pull off some kind of chamber-style evocation of such a collaboration.

Having said all of this, there is little doubt that Line Dances will work superbly once housed within the forum for which it was specifically designed—the global medium of internet movies. The intricacy and detailing of Belton’s work remains extremely impressive, and his ability to take aspects of a dancerly sensibility into this medium without being precious about his dancers or their reputation is extremely rare, even within the world of international dance film festivals.

Line Dances is therefore another feather in his cap, ably supported by Ritchie and the rest of the company, and it was a pleasure to launch this artistic ship from the distant, southern shores of Dunedin, rather than hearing about Belton premiering the work, after the fact, in Europe or Australia. 

Note: Line Dances is also screening online at: (posting on Dance Tech pending as of 11 Oct 2010) 

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