In a long, brick-walled room on the top floor of a Pentecostal church in Harlem, musician Sarah Neufeld, known best as the violinist for Montreal bands Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, plays violin while two dancers entwine and stretch their bodies in balletic motion. Here, Canadian filmmaker Derrick Belcham crafts the first music video for Neufeld’s debut solo album, “Hero Brother,” a fusion of indie-rock crescendos and choruses rich with classical training and depths of personal insight. The video fuses too: music, contemporary dance, and documentary-film techniques come together on equal and emotional footing in the project, the first in a series for Belcham’s Brooklyn-based arts organization Pressur.es. BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada spoke with the filmmaker about Pressur.es and his work with musicians and dancers.
Belcham has worked on short films for Philip Glass, Thurston Moore, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, and many more musicians through his own production company, A Story Told Well, and through Parisian film collective La Blogothèque. He honed his skills across North America with filmmakers such as Vincent Moon, making over 100 vérité-like music videos known as "Take Away Shows." For these films, he would follow musicians through public spaces as they played music and interacted with the public. Now, living in New York after finding success in Toronto and Montreal, Belcham has begun to film dance in similar ways. The Pressur.es project, co-founded with Ruby Kato Attwood, artistic director and member of Montreal-based band Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, goes beyond simply following dancers with a camera, rather, it mixes film, music, and dance in new and uniquely expressive, intimate ways.
“Working with dancers is incomparable to working with musicians,” says Belcham, who fell in love with dance when he moved to New York City. “With Take Away films, there’s enough there just watching a person making music, and you can get adventurous with that. But with dancers, there’s a less static dynamic, the movement is so interactive and exciting because I had no idea where they are going to go — I need to follow them, keep up.”
Pressur.es grew out of a film project Belcham made with New York choreographer and improvisational dancer Melanie Maar and musicians in Central Park. The resulting film piqued the interest of Pentacle Dance Works Inc., who asked Belcham to curate a night of dance films. “I’d seen dance films and knew what I was doing but wasn’t in a position to create a night of programming, so I told them I’d create new pieces instead,” Belcham explains. He contacted dancers and choreographers he knew and reached out to others he admired, creating six films that screened at Brooklyn’s Spectacle Theater Kinetic Cinema series, in the fall of 2012.
To create the video for Neufeld’s song “Forcelessness,” Belcham worked with choreographer Emery LeCrone and dancers Kaitlyn Gilliland and Pierre Guilbault. “For the location, I chose a really long space so we could have a definite separation of the dancer from the musician yet not have to shoot them at separate times,” he says. “I wanted them to influence each other and I wanted to highlight that they were separate but together, a theme of the series as well.”
Traditional modes of viewing dance separate dancers from audience and usually offer the viewer only one point of view. Belcham’s dance film projects multiply those points of view through camera angles and filming in-situ public dance performances. “Whatever angle you’re viewing the dance from, if you see it from the back or from the side, that perspective changes the choreography and results in a different emotional impact,” says Belcham. “I think of these films in threes: the initial concept is about choreography, music, and filmmaker, but we also have the filmmaker, film, and audience. In the six pieces that we’ve already screened, there’s an audience on film — at the moment of filming, the dancer was reacting to the audience and I was reacting to the audience. Then you add another audience watching the finished film in a theater or wherever they’re seeing it; it’s a different experience. For me, that audience is definitely in mind the entire time.”
Following the collaboration with Neufeld, the Pressur.es series will include more experimental dance works in collaboration with musicians Tim Fain, (Philip Glass’s violin soloist), Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, Laurel Sprengelmeyer of Little Scream, saxophonist Colin Stetson, and a roster of other independent musicians for whom a traditional music video just wouldn’t seem right. To better demonstrate the aesthetic of his work, ARTINFO Canada hosts the online premier of Belcham’s film “Twelve Minutes of Sugar in the Park,” made for the Kinetic Cinema series, featuring Montreal musician Pietro Amato, French horn player in Montreal bands Torngat, the Luyas, Belle Orchestre, and Arcade Fire.