Dance is the most difficult to capture of all the arts. It exists not on paper, not on canvas, not in a written score or a CD, but rather in the mind of the choreographer and his or her dancers, and in the experience of the viewer. A dance on a stage can be filmed, but very often such products don’t capture the particular magic of the moving body that can be so potently expressed in live performance. What you see is people doing steps to music. Not the same.

The “dance film” (or “dance for camera”) genre takes a different approach. Here, choreographer and filmmaker are collaborating on what appears within each frame. The camera is part of the dance; the dance is shaped by the camera. The options this opens up for both dance and film are, says Oklahoma Dance Film Festival founder Jessica Vokoun, almost limitless. The big difference: “it’s not just documentation.”

Vokoun ran a dance-for-camera workshop at the 2011 EXCHANGE Dance Choreography Festival, and she said the participants were blown away by the experience. “As soon as these dancers got the camera in their hand, they went, whoa. All of a sudden, the choices were overwhelming. They had to think about, ‘Where is my audience? Where am I directing their eye? Am I going to reveal something or conceal something?'”

(In case the idea of dance on camera is new to you, as it was to me until a few years ago, here’s a taste: part one of Pascal Magnin’s classic dance film “Queens for a Day.”)

The short films selected for this year’s festival — more than 20 of them — come from around the world, from Argentina and the Netherlands to right here in Tulsa. Films by local filmmakers Geoffrey Hicks, Rachel Bruce Johnson, and Bob and Andrea Jobe will be featured at the free opening-night screening at the Circle Cinema on October 13, sponsored by This Land Press.

At the opening event, guests will also see the OK GO/Pilobolus music video for “All Is Not Lost,” as well as the theatrical premiere of Hanson’s “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” choreographed by Tulsan Heather Hall and featuring more than 100 local dancers, including Portico Dans Theatre members Michael J. Lopez and Cassie Hampton and Soluna Performing Arts Group’s Margaret Leighty.

“Expect a mixed bag,” said Vokoun of the shorts — everything from striking images in black-and-white to animation and interviews.

Two feature films anchor the festival: “A Good Man,” which follows famed choreographer Bill T. Jones as he creates a new work about Abraham Lincoln; and “Never Stand Still,” a documentary about the legacy of Jacob’s Pillow, an abandoned Massachusetts farm that evolved into a National Historic Landmark and an internationally renowned center for contemporary dance. (Its annual summer festival is one of the most anticipated dance events in the world.)

Vokoun told me a bit about the history of the Oklahoma Dance Film Festival, which started with her own interest in dance and film and the ways they might enhance each other.

After I graduated from undergrad, I spent a summer at Jacob’s Pillow as an intern for the center’s filmmaker. We were archiving and documenting the festival, and she’s the one who introduced me to the idea of dance film. I came back and started playing a little bit on my own. The next year I went to the American Dance Festival and and met Doug Rosenberg and was exposed to more. Doug invited me to come to ADF for a Screendance academic conference as his assistant.

It merged two forms I’ve always been interested in: dance and film. I loved seeing how they worked together, to bring dance into a more intimate space. I was really struck by the dramatic presence you could create in film, and also by the idea of taking dance off the stage. It just opened up a whole new world in terms of performance and choreography.

When I was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2006, I just wanted to share this, so I wrote up an independent study to organize a film festival. It hit a few roadblocks [and never materialized], but when my husband moved down to Tulsa, I thought, why not see if there’s a venue down there? A friend suggested I check out the Circle Cinema, and Clark at Circle was like “This sounds really fascinating. I kind of have no idea what you’re talking about, but yeah, we’ll help you. This is what our theater is all about.”

And it was off and running. The festival had about 15 submissions last year, and more than 50 this year. It’s presented by The Bell House, with support from local organizations such as Choregus Productions and the Arts and Humanities Council, among many others, making it a fully community-supported festival — which just makes it a lot more fun.

Vokoun said, “I feel like the festival is educational, and entertaining, hopefully, and it also breaks open the box, takes the lid off, and says: ‘Let me show you something new’.”

View a full list of films and details about how and when to see them here. Hope to see you at the Circle this weekend!

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