by Martin French
The joint Arts Council England (ACE) venture with the BBC that is The Space continues to operate, pushing the line that it's all about giving "the people" access to "the arts" or something like that.
After the initial, and hugely expensive, launch where ACE paid huge sums of money for not very interesting films about dance pieces, the powers that be have shifted focus to presenting pre-recorded lived performances of dance companies.
Now, when we say dance companies (plural) what we mean is dance company (singular) with the company in question being Rambert Dance Company.
At the time of writing they currently have four works, in their entirety, on the website so that anybody and everybody can go along and watch all of those works for free.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well, take a look at the compilation video we have put together below on just one of the works, 'Sub' by Itzik Galili, and you will see exactly what has gone wrong.
Extracts from 'Sub' by Rambert Dance Company. Article19 has edited the clips from the full video but the clips themselves have not been altered. The video contains no sound, use full screen to expand the player.
The whole point of shooting a live performance of a dance work is to then bring that work to others on video. Via the internet or otherwise.
You're not making a "film", you're making a "recording". The difference is very important because a "recording" is a visual representation of what actually happened and 'Sub' as it appears on The Space is nothing of the sort.
At several points during the video we see slow motion representations of the choreography achieved by shooting the movement at high speed and then playing the video back at normal speed.
Unless the dancers, as good as they are, can defy the laws of physics then this camera trickery has no place in the video. It also creates choreographic continuity problems by ruining the timing of the movement itself.
What does timing matter in a dance work though when the film company gets to show off their over-cranking mad-skillz?
Let's ignore the dancer in the background who is moving because we need to show you this completely pointless close-up of a dancers face
The film company (in this case Nylon Films based in London) also appear to have some problems with their equipment. We've highlighted several issues in the video above where you can see some rather clunky attempts to reframe certain shots, tripod kicking and somewhat hopeless attempts to track the dancers as they move around the stage.
Filming a live show is not easy and mistakes are going to be made. The whole point of filming over multiple nights or with multiple cameras however is so you can edit the final video to remove those mistakes.
If the shots that are included are the only ones the company had then they didn't have the shots and the video should have been canned.
Speaking of editing. In several sections of the video the editor appears to be randomly jumping around to various parts of the choreography. We say "appears to be" because it's very hard to tell if certain sections of movement are related to one another. You lose all sense of the sequences the dancers are performing because all you can see are close-ups of somebody's torso.
You might be able to get away with this jump-cutting in a montage video or with spoken narrative in a dramatic film but for dance the sequences are the narrative. If you chop up the sequences all we are left with is a perfume commercial. Just a bunch of nicely lit images that don't mean anything.
Who the hell are those people at the front? Fear the floating heads of doom!
Clarity of Purpose
Our video highlights a dozen issues with the video but we found about three dozen more. So many in fact we could keep this piece going for a few thousand words.
There are numerous problems with the basic technical competence throughout the filming and editing of the video and it's hard to understand how anybody could let these pass even the most basic editorial checks.
For people who have never seen either Rambert Dance Company or the work of Itzik Galili it is especially tragic.
At the most basic level the film makers and the management of Rambert have added visual garnish to a work and to a company that is simply not needed. The dancers and the choreographer are impressive all on their own. Just film the work competently and all will be well.
If the objective of The Space is to bring art into people's lives for free then we need to make sure that what they are seeing is an accurate representation of the theatrical performances they are recording. Not a badly made facsimile of that performance.
What's also hard to understand is why Rambert, the best funded non-ballet company in this country, couldn't be bothered hiring a more capable company to do the film work.
If you think you might see something better in the other three pieces on The Space, all from Rambert, then you would be wrong. This might be hard to believe, but they're actually worse.
At the time of writing Rambert had not responded to questions put to them by Article19 about their videos on The Space. Repeated phone calls to Nylon Films went unanswered.