Award-Winning Screendance Artist Visits the U

17 November 2017 Published in News and Announcements

“What do we see when we watch someone dance?” asked Katrina McPherson, an award-winning screendance artist who visited the U this week. As she posed this question, she was guiding students in Professor Ellen Bromberg’s Screendance class through experiences that heightened our awareness of movement and of perception. 

McPherson is the author of a seminal textbook for screendance courses, called Making Video Dance, which was published by Routledge in 2006 and an updated version will be released in 2018. She has been a colleague and friend of Professor Bromberg almost 20 years, and her visit to the U included a master class and a lecture for students and community members on November 15. 

During this lecture, McPherson shared examples of her projects, which spanned from 1995’s Pace to her recent We record ourselves. Each of the videos revealed another facet of her distinct approach, highlighting her sensitivity to setting and framing, as well as to synergies between sound and sensation. Her attention to these relationships, especially the ways that filming and dancing can be interactive, is evident in her work over the decades as well as her conversations with students at the U.

During the master class, held in a studio in the School of Dance, she had students work in pairs, and then trios and a quartet, on “watching scores.” She described these as “exercises that help us look and watch.” They unfolded non-verbally as beautiful moments of dancing and observing, with students noticing afterwards how their dialogic studies were metaphors for working with cameras and dancers. McPherson added “filming and dancing are always interactive; ideas are not generated by one person.”

McPherson then expanded this idea of interconnectedness to her interest in a recent lecture by Jill Soloway, a writer, director and executive producer who may be best known for the Amazon series Transparent. Soloway has a concept of a “female gaze” to counter the “male gaze,” made famous in the theories of Laura Mulvey, to describe a gaze that is objectifying and consuming. A “female gaze,” according to Soloway, foregrounds “feeling seeing” or a “subjective camera,” a way of using a camera that shows what it feels like to see.

The second idea of a “female gaze” is that it shows what it feels like to be seen, which is also a way of countering the tendency of a “male gaze” to capture or dominate. In Soloways’s words, a female gaze shows “how it feels to be seen.” A third tenet of the “female gaze” is that it, in Soloways’ words, “dares to return the gaze.” For McPherson each of these principles is a vital part of video dance. As she explained to the students, in video dance we get a sense of “seeing you seeing me.”

In another experience that McPherson created for the students she had them position one person “like a camera” and then moved them through the space telling them when to open and close their eyes. The students reflected afterwards, “When there’s a human as the camera, the subjectivity of viewing is heightened.” As McPherson said during her lecture in the Marriott Library, screendance is a site for exploration and inquiry, and her projects have an exquisite way of revealing our layered experiences and the particularities of seeing and moving. In many ways they invite us to look anew at our own environments and interactions.  

By School of Dance Assistant Professor Kate Mattingly 


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