Bisecting the dance of the cinematic body
A performance in absentia

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Preface: this text is meant to be heard and seen, not read (yet here it is).
It was originally performed by a surrogate – a body that doesn’t belong to me – at Motion Pictures: A festival of new cinema in 2015. The piece is tethered to a dance sequence from Charles Vidor’s 1944 musical Cover Girl – watch here

Dancing with oneself. To take a mirror-image as a partner.

In this sequence the film’s protagonist Danny, played the ever-eloquent Gene Kelly, walks down a dark city street and encounters his double. His reflection talks and moves independently. Leaping out of the pane of glass, he pulls his corporeal counterpart into a dance against his will like a puppet master with outstretched arms.

Just as these bodies are reflected, so too are their gestures. Theirs is a mirrored choreography.

But the echo falters. The two are no longer in sync – the dance turns into a pseudo brawl. They spar, joust and compete. Yet there is still rhythm here. The two are still entangled – only the dance has become a duel.

A duel is contingent on partnership. It ends when one partner falls. When there is only one contestant left standing.

When the reflection jumps back into the glass the corporeal Danny smashes it with a garbage can. The music stops, the dance is over.

In this scene, two identical bodies coexist within a single frame. One is born of the other. But the umbilical chord is somewhat severed. Taking to the street, the double covets independent agency. It reaches towards a distinct existence.

But this is mere flirtation, for the very idea of independence is impossible. The double remains tethered to his referent like the ghost of a dead twin. Haunted, possessed. Until the movement ends.

This is the fate of the cinematic body. The cinematic body is a body born of another. A mirrored image. A transposed likeness, an echoed form.

It is a body that survives on the lifeblood of repeated gestures. As long as the loops of the projector turn, the tape is re-wound, or the digital file is recalibrated to its starting position, that body will continue to dance.

This is an almost violent dance – a kind of animated entrapment. It is a perpetual incarceration. It is the suffocating rhythm of a Sisyphean drama. Up the hill and down again. Over and over. Until the projector grinds to a halt. Until there are no more replays. Done, finished.

The cinematic body is a ghost. A phantom reflection trapped in a state of unending purgatory. But what’s more – and what’s worse – its movements are haunted, possessed by a choreography of repetition.

I – the I standing before you – didn’t write these words. I’m a surrogate. A stand-in. An actor. The hidden I – the I who wrote these words – is avoiding this eternal dance (this entrapment). You can’t film me because I’m not there. I have no double to push against. No partner to dance with.

 

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