I am not versed in dance theory or history, and so when I see a dance performance, the only basis I have for a response is my visceral experience— did I feel the performers connected with me and held my attention? Video on the other hand, is my profession, so I confess that when I’m presented with a “dance film” or “dance video,” I begin with preconceptions, and not all of them are positive. For example, as a rule I am wary of graphic and editorial effects in such videos. Most of the time I feel that video-specific effects and multiple cuts are an unwelcome source of interference in dance films and videos, filtering and diluting performances.
I would usually prefer uncut documentation of the live performers. That said, as a piece of dance film/video, Wallpapers does everything right. It forced me to redefine all of my above reservations. The use of effects is absolutely organic. Each cut is motivated and works as an extension of the onscreen dancers’ phrases. The collaborative energy between the dance ensemble, choreographer Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully, and filmmaker Jeff Roll is palpable. The dancers’ moves seem to play out a conflict between full-bodied elegant expression and staggered physical frustration or earthly limitation. And each camera staging and every cut balances the spontaneity and intimacy of these physical choices.
Throughout Wallpapers Tarrazi-Scully, Roll and editor Dustin Glasco, repeatedly employ super-imposition, 2-dimensional patterns, and image-matting. These video techniques I long ago dismissed as tired and overused, instead feel fresh and unpredictable. The first image of a shadow dancing against a elaborately-patterned wall sets the tone. Shadows of dancing bodies continue as a dominant visual element, and a tremendously effective one— especially when they are echoed in the other motifs, of superimposed images, wallpaper patterns, flat textures, and the reflective floors. The walls, floors, and the plane of the video itself, all appear as shifting surfaces, unreliable outside frames—compelling the viewer to identify even more fully with the human figures, the dancers, who are often shot head-to-toe.
The second image, of the choreographer with her two young daughter/collaborators, suggests a family portrait but also introduces a living stillness that repeatedly returns to punctuate the piece. These recurring scenes of the two girls sitting, jump-roping, dancing and playing create a beguiling counterbalance, to the apparent internal conflicts and physical struggles of the adult dancers. Near the end of the video, a well-timed slapstick sequence involving cake, feels like a reward, not only in the way it subverts the “family portrait” imagery, but also in how the mundane silliness breaks the formal elegance of watching all these skilled dancers push against their frames. Wallpapers is a beautiful, surprising, and thematically rich viewing experience from beginning to end. It not only makes you feel that you “are there, “it leaves you wanting more.