I can’t believe I’d never run across this terrific poetry-dance film before today, when a Google video search for Gwendolyn Brooks’ most famous poem turned it up. The YouTube description reads:
National Dance Institute’s Celebration Team performs “We Real Cool” in an NDI original movie short. Scenery by Red Grooms. Poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Choreography by Amy Lehman. (movie contains full credits)
There’s a more populist aesthetic at work here than in most of the dance videos I’ve shared, and it’s also a proper film, not merely a documentary video of a dance performance. And no wonder: it was the work of Emile Ardolino, “a dance-film maker of exceptional sensitivity” according to his 1993 obituary in the New York Times. He was best known as the director of Dirty Dancing and Sister Act. The obituary continued: “He had an eye and an imagination that seemed to understand intuitively how to lend the immediacy of film to an art that often requires the distance and framing of a stage.”
The overhead shot of the kids imitating a pool game was my favorite part, but the device of having them emerge from a painting was brilliant, too. You might be wondering, as I was, how Ardolino and these celebratory dancers are going to deal with the poem’s morbid last line without resorting to melodrama. I think they pulled it off.
National Dance Institute (NDI) is
a non-profit arts education organization founded in 1976 by ballet star Jacques d’Amboise.
Through in-school partnerships, workshops, and public performances, NDI uses dance as a catalyst to engage children and motivate them towards excellence.
It sounds as if the NDI had a lot to do with Ardolino’s subsequent box-office success, judging from the Times obituary.
It was Jacques d’Amboise, a principal dancer with the City Ballet, who set Mr. Ardolino on his Hollywood career with an invitation to direct “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’.” An account of Mr. d’Amboise’s work with children, which won Mr. Ardolino the 1983 Academy Award for best documentary feature, two Emmys, a Peabody Award and other honors.
We Real Cool was made the very same year as Dirty Dancing, according to a timeline on the NDI site.
- A Celebration of Literature unites important American writers, composers, visual artists and choreographers to create short, theatrical ballets for children. “We Real Cool” is created from the poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, and is filmed in a vacant lot in New York City’s Lower East side, with a backdrop mural designed by Red Grooms.
This well-filmed dance interpretation of a poem by Ella Jane Chappell is one of ten shortlisted films for the Southbank Centre’s inaugural Shot Through the Heart Poetry Film competition. Katie Garrett of Garrett and Garrett Videography directs, with choreography by Anna-Lise Marie Hearn. The dance company, AniCo., has a webpage about the film. The text is worth quoting at length for the insight it gives into dance-focused poetry videos, an important subset of poetry video generally:
Rolling Frames is an intimate and personal look into the scenarios of three very different relationships that are affected and manipulated by dependency.
At the heart of Rolling Frames are a series of shifting voices and characters that inhabit three very different relationships. These relationships are linked by the role that dependency plays in each. To some extent, every relationship involves a yielding of independence. The poem dissects this manner of yielding: the manifestation of greed in desire, the vulnerability in love, the loneliness in lust.
The physicality and inner rhythms of the words are translated once over by the expressive movements of dance, and once again through the gaze of the camera’s eyes.
If the films released so far on their website are any indication, Motionpoems‘ 2014 season is their most stylistically diverse collection of poetry films to date. This film, released just before Independence Day in the U.S., builds on the poem’s challenge to any easy assumptions about American identity. (It’s also slightly NSFW, with glimpses of female nudity.) Here’s the description from the website:
Filmed near Lake Geneva Switzerland (and at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern), British filmmaker Richard Johnson and dancer Jasmine Morand present this francoperspective on California poet David Hernandez’s all-inclusive poem, “All American.”
Click through and scroll down for the text.
All the flowers in my country have been picked
And gunpowder planted instead.
Fragrance breathes its last
In a torture camp.
The very lane where hand in hand with you
I have danced to the music of peace,
There a death-dealer is spread-eagled.
Ammar Aziz directed this poetry film featuring Pakistani poet, writer, and women’s rights activist Attiya Dawood, accompanied by dancer Suhaee Abro. Be sure to press the icon marked “CC” at the bottom of the video to view subtitles in English, Sindhi or Urdu, or click through to the Umang website to read the text in all three languages.
This is Confessions of a Lacking Pursuit,
Directed, choreographed & edited by Maggie Bailey. Filmed by Paul Nguyen. Performed by Heather Bybee. Sylvia Plath’s recitation of her poem “The Applicant.” Music by Shane Carruth.
Maggie Bailey is majoring in Theatre/Theatre Arts Management and Dance, concentrating in Performance and Choreography, at College of Charleston, according to LinkedIn. Confessions of a Lacking Pursuit was her senior project.
Last week’s Sunday bonus post went over well, so here’s another, also a bit spiritual, for all you church-of-the-brunch types. In this one, the late Allen Ginsberg does Tai Chi in his kitchen over an audio track of Allen Ginsberg reading a poem about doing Tai Chi in his kitchen. Found via the lyrikline blog, which notes:
This clip is one of the earliest “Poetry Spots” Bob Holman made between 1986 and 1994 for the New York public television station, WYZC. Holman produced around 50 “Poetry Spots” in total.
For more of Holman’s poetry videos, see his YouTube channel.