Dancing from a different angle

Abby Fisher

Student uses film to highlight performance

Merryn Landry, senior electronic media production major, edits her film about dancers. Landry has been working on an independent study throughout the semester that takes a new approach to filming dancers.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Merryn Landry notices everything. Especially when it comes to film and dance.

Throughout the fall semester, the senior electronic media production major has been working on an independent study in conjunction with the dance department at Kent State.

Landry took Dance as an Art Form and several video production classes during the same semester.

“The two classes coincided perfectly, and I thought it would be fascinating to use film and dance together,” she said.

After her introductory dance class, Landry enrolled in several other dance courses.

“My favorite part of taking dance classes was that it really helped me to understand movement,” she said. “You are able to see the movement and it helps you better catch it on video.”

Landry’s interest in filming dancers soon grabbed the attention of dance professor Kimberly Karpanty.

“I was really in awe of Kim,” she said. “She is like the rock star of the dance department – her choreography is always on the cutting edge.”

At the end of last spring, Karpanty proposed a collaboration piece with Landry.

“I was going to help her with some things over the summer, but when that fell through, she proposed doing work on her piece ‘Plenty,'” she said.

A dance about depression, the piece, “Plenty,” was originally a duet choreographed by Karpanty in 1998. From there, it was expanded into an hour-long dance and first performed in Arizona in 2003.

The piece, Karpanty explains, began in response to a family member’s depression.

“It expanded from there,” Karpanty said. “It uses art as communication to show something that is really significant – mental illness and the stigma that accompanies it.”

Landry produced a short film that accompanies a portion of the piece.

“My film plays with a monologue that Kim’s sister wrote,” she said.”

Karpanty said working with Landry throughout the semester has been an interesting experience.

“Her work has grown using the camera,” she said. “It’s wonderful to work with someone who collaborates in an artistic manner – to really create something together that works with the camera and film.”

Karpanty added Landry’s film has given the piece visual images, and the technology of it gives the audience another thing to look at.

“She came up with some very creative ideas,” she said. “Her work adds another layer to the piece,”

Simple in its nature, the piece has lots of organic images in it. Landry’s focus is on hands and eyes. Eyes, she said, give a viewer a look into a person’s character.

“Eyes give you that important human connection – when you first meet someone, you look into their eyes,” she said.

Landry’s goal was to create a clean and clear film to watch while Karpanty dances.

“I wanted the main movement to be on the stage, not on the screen behind it,” she said.

To create her final product, however, Landry spent most of the semester in dance rehearsals, learning how to get the best camera angles.

The first couple of weeks filming dancers were rough, she recalls.

“I looked like a mad person,” she said. “I was running around all over the studio shooting these dancers – it was good exercise though!”

Landry added that one of the most difficult parts was keeping one eye on the dancers and one eye on the camera.

“That’s where the choreography will come in,” she said. “It’s so important to know the dance, you have to know how the dancer will move and anticipate that movement.”

Landry learns all the choreography and counts with the dancers.

“I’m probably working just as hard as the dancers,” she said.

Typically, Landry will spend two to five hours at a dance rehearsal. In that time, she will take notes, listen to the choreographer and watch the subtle changes in movement dancers make.

Landry must also be very physically fit. Along with learning the choreography, she must also be steady enough to balance the camera in order to get a desired camera angle.

According to Landry, one of the most important aspects as a filmmaker is to know the subject.

“The most awkward part of filming is when you don’t know your dancer,” she said. “I’ll get that really uncomfortable crotch shot.”

A trust relationship between Landry and the dancers makes filming dance a very intimate experience, she said.

“I have to know where the dancer is at all times,” she said. “I get to know the dancers in a non-verbal way.”

After a rehearsal is over, Landry goes into her editing room. There, she analyzes her work.

“From one rehearsal, I can usually fill one or two videotapes,” she said. “I have to cut that down to only a few minutes.”

“A final product will be shot a billion times in practice before it’s finished,” she said.

Every few weeks for the past semester, Landry’s work has been critiqued by members of the dance faculty.

“I had to practice shooting a lot to get ready for that,” she said. “And Kim always defended my work.”

Landry says that dance and film have become her passions.

“Film takes dance to a whole new level,” she said. “I hated it when you watch dancers, and they’re really small when you see them on screen – you lose intimacy that way.”

For Landry, this kind of dance film is an art form all on its own.

“It becomes very artistic, filming dance,” she said. “And I know that it has helped me tremendously as a filmmaker.”

Contact features reporter Abby Fisher at [email protected].