sanscesse is a dance film that is pure choreography for camera. It is inspired by the nature of visual perception and how the mind reconstructs the images it perceives (via form, orientation, depth, motion and colour). It can also be seen as a reading of the emergence of human kind and its journey towards eternal life. The film mirrors the ceaseless movement of stars, the continuous nature of the evolutionary process, the incessant flow of life into afterlife, and the coalescence of history that unites us to our origins.
sanscesse features the film debut of dancers Tawny Andersen and Emily Fairbanks and the beautiful music of Cameron McKittrick and David Kristian, performed by the Penderecki String Quartet and Kristian himself.
"Science tells us that motion is an essential of existence. The stars wandering across the sky are born and die. They wax and wane, some colliding with others, some burning themselves out. Everywhere is change. This ceaseless motion throughout measureless space and endless time has its parallel in the smaller motions of shorter duration that occur on the earth. Even inanimate things, crystals, rivers, clouds, islands, grow and dwindle, accumulate and break up, appear and disappear."
I started entertaining the notion of producing choreography for camera some years ago when I saw a dance performance by Margie Gillis at an outdoor auditorium in Montreal. A piece in particular made quite an impression on me - Torn Roots, Broken Branches. The dress used in this piece had lots of excess material, which Margie used with great ingenuity to emphasise her movements but also to direct the natural flow and inertia of the dress itself. The dynamics struck me as a quite cinematic and I started to think about how one films dance.
There is of course a great history of choreography for camera. The work of Maya Deren stands out, as well as that of other director / choreographer duos to which I owe much (e.g. Norman McLaren / Ludmilla Chiriaeff, Merce Cunningham / CharlesAtlas and Eliot Caplan), as to other experimental filmmakers. I occasionally make reference to the works of these artists in sanscesse in the form of postural citations or visual treatment. The piece however is not intended as an historical overview of dance on film and/or the cinematic styles of past filmmakers, but in some ways the work of these filmmakers presented an interesting point of reference for this project. If for one thing, these films taught me to disregard convention and follow through with my visions.
Some years later, I became interested in perceptual psychology, especially as it relates to eye / brain interpretation of motion and particularly cinema. I started to devise a project that would explore some limitations of our perceptual system and at the same time involve the audience in a questioning of their own perceptual habits. I wanted to demonstrate this in a scientific manner by varying parameters in the image from scene to scene, giving different visual treatments to body motion. This corresponds more or less to the first portion of sanscesse. Bit by bit, the viewer is provided with all the cues used for the perceptual interpretation of an image (motion, outline, shading, colour, and depth).
This approach could seem a bit dry, so I decided to unify the piece via the use of narrative elements. As I was designing the piece, it dawned on me that perhaps I could explore 'creationist' themes in this film; after all, the point representation of dancers used in the first segment of the film reminded me of constellations of stars. I also thought I might move from an infinite space to a finite space, and from abstraction to concreteness. These concepts cohered with the already defined progression in visual treatments which lead to a more defined figure.
This sort of scientific breakdown of the body seemed to me a bit aggressive, or in the very least obsessive. Having worked in the scientific community myself, I am aware of how persistent researchers need to be. Although scientific investigation is often rewarding and generally beneficial for mankind, it is also intrusive and often ignores or dismisses the spiritual. This is a point I wanted to address by creating a counter movement in the second portion of the film, which explores the spiritual quest for the inner self.
As I was designing the piece of choreography for camera, I remembered a composition by Arvo Pärt that had a structure similar to that of my project. The piece in question is Tabula Rasa. It seemed to me that this piece was indeed built on minor variations, obsessively repeating notes, with micro-symmetries in each subsection, using a reflecting reversal of note pattern. When one looks at the score, one has the impression of looking at an elegant complex formula. The rigid mathematics of the score prompted the musicians to exclaim: "Where is the music?". However, when the music is played, the formula disappears and what transcends is pure.
It was my intention to do something similar with the film, and I believe that in some way the structure does indeed vanish once viewed and heard. Although Pärt's piece is beautiful, I realised that the project required the use of two sections of music that were bipolar opposites. The first section would be an abstract piece where a single voice would introduce itself progressively, paralleling the gradual definition of the human body. The second section would be extremely simple, with a beautiful melody and quite lyrical movement with a slow chromatic progression, paralleling the pace of the camera movements and the 'ethereal' aesthetics used (i.e. smoke and stained glass projections provided by the Goodman Zissoff Stained Glass Studio).
I realised that to achieve what I wanted in terms of musical aesthetic, I would require the services of a string quartet, which are capable of playing extended techniques in a convincing manner. It is at this point that I approached the Penderecki String Quartet and the composer Cameron McKittrick. I also decided from the onset that I wanted to use the services of an old friend of mine David Kristian whose work in electronic ambience is otherworldly and whose sense of texture is unequalled. I am very grateful to Cameron, David and the Quartet for a wonderful piece of mixed music that achieves far more in conveying this vision than I could have ever imagined possible.
Finally, I want to point out that the production of this film would not have been possible, had I not had the good fortune of working with a wonderful group of people: two extremely talented and creative dancers, very gifted composers and performers, a master cinematographer, and a remarkable crew and technical support staff.
Thanks to all for bringing this project to fruition!
Filmmaker / Producer