Dance and film at the NFB

Dance and film at the NFB

Film and dance are both movement-based art forms, so it makes sense that they would come together in projects focusing on the specifics of one or the other. Take the work of Canadian animation pioneer Norman McLaren for example, who made several films in collaboration with dancers. The best known is Pas de deux (1968), which pushed the limits of animation by bringing together dancers' movements that originally were separated in time. The result is an elegant and delicate film, but also a technical tour de force. Ballet Adagio (1972) is a more modest work, in which the director films a ballet in slow-motion, allowing viewers to watch the technique and the mechanics of movement. Finally, with Narcissus (1983), McLaren offers us an interpretation in dance of the myth of Narcissus.

Dance has also been the subject of a number of NFB documentaries, including Ballerina (George Kaczender, 1963); First Stop, China (John N. Smith, 1986), about an Asian tour of the Grands Ballets Canadiens; Moment of Light (Gordon Reeve, 1992), on the great Evelyn Hart; The Making of a Dancer (Douglas Jackson, 1993), on the meteoric rise of Stéphane Léonard; Jean-Pierre Perreault: Giant Steps (Paule Baillargeon, 2004), about choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault; and the Oscar-winning Flamenco at 5:15 (Cynthia Scott, 1983), which shows Canadian dancers being given flamenco lessons by two Spanish teachers.

Back in 1963, Roger Blais filmed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Shadow on the Prairie (A Canadian Ballet), a work about the settling of the Canadian West. Philippe Baylaucq's work with José Navas, which began in 1996 with Lodela and continues in 2011 with Ora, is on a whole other level – closer in spirit to McLaren's Pas de deux. These works explore the possibilities of film to the fullest, transcending dance in the process.

In the spirit of the NFB's long history with dance, enjoy this selection of 9 films that explore, celebrate and interpret one of our most precious art forms.

  • Pas de deux
    1968|13 min

    This Oscar®-nominated short film by Norman McLaren is a cinematic study of the choreography of ballet. A bare, black set with the back-lit figures of dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren create a dream-like, hypnotic effect. This award-winning film comes complete with the visual effects one expects from this master filmmaker.

  • Peggy Baker: Four Phrases
    2009|5 min

    Built around an intimate interview with the acclaimed Canadian dancer and choreographer, Peggy Baker Four Phrases is an artful animation and documentary hybrid that travels through a variety of techniques to celebrate Baker's work and legacy. This film was produced for the 2009 Governor General's Performing Arts Award.

  • Flamenco at 5:15
    1983|29 min

    This Oscar®-winning short film is an impressionistic record of a flamenco dance class given to senior students of the National Ballet School of Canada by two great teachers from Spain, Susana and Antonio Robledo. The film shows the beautiful young North American dancers—inspired by the flamenco rhythms and mesmerized by Susana's extraordinary energy—joyously merging with an ancient gypsy culture.

  • Lock
    2010|5 min

    Choreographer Edouard Lock believes that movement embodies our interests and desires. In this short documentary, we see the celebrated founder of La La La Human Steps working with dancers in his studio space. The film uses unusual camera angles and slow-motion cinematography to capture the artistry of Lock’s signature high-energy, high-impact style.

  • Source
    2011|6 min

    In this short film, Margie Gillis becomes the very embodiment of modern dance - she steps into the light, lifts her arms and unleashes her extraordinary mane into the air.

    Four decades into a remarkable career, Gillis is a beacon of compassion and creativity. Watch as high-speed cameras capture the delicate and savage joy of Canada's own Isadora Duncan.

    Produced by the National Film Board of Canada in co-operation with the National Arts Centre and the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation on the occasion of the 2011 Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.

  • Ballet Adagio
    1972|10 min

    This short film by Norman McLaren is a slow-motion study of the pas de deux adagio, one of the most exacting dances of classical ballet. A ballet originally choreographed by the Russian ballet master Asaf Messerer is performed for this film by the internationally known Canadian pair David and Anna Marie Holmes, to the music of Albinoni's Adagio.

  • ORA
    2011|15 min

    ORA is a stunning meeting between the artistic worlds of choreographer José Navas and filmmaker Philippe Baylaucq. It is the first film to use 3D thermal imaging, producing visuals like none that have ever been seen before: the luminous variations of body heat seen on skin, bodies emitting a multitude of colours, a space filled with movement that transforms itself.

    Warning: Although this film was shot in 3D, the streaming and downloadable versions are available in 2D only.

  • Narcissus
    1983|21 min

    In this short film by Norman McLaren, dancers enact the Greek tragedy of Narcissus, the beautiful youth whose excessive self-love condemned him to a trapped existence. Skillfully merging film, dance and music, the film is a compendium of the techniques McLaren acquired over a lifetime of experimentation.