Canadian filmmaker Marie Brodeur on the art of dance filmmaking

In 2002, Canadian filmmaker Marie Brodeur was asked by French choreographer Estelle Clareton to film her hour-long modern dance piece, featuring a woman in her 70s looking back on certain moments in her life, and condense it into six minutes. It was a daunting task, not least because the director had to maintain the integrity of the choreography.

“The interesting thing in this piece (“De Julia à Émile 1949”) is I managed to play with time by various techniques,” says Marie. “I managed to choreograph the choreography.”

Marie’s filmmaking is informed by her own experiences as a dancer. “I danced professionally for about 12 years. Around 1983 or 84, I decided to stop performing because it was not something satisfying to me anymore,” she says, adding that the transition to filmmaking happened accidentally. “I took a video camera with me, and went for a year to Southeast Asia, just for the fun of it. But then I started filming everything that I was seeing…finally I got 50 hours of stock shot and I made a documentary with that.”

Over the next two decades, Marie has made nearly twenty films on dance. They range from short videos of dance performances, to full length documentaries on dance and dancers. Across both genres, she has to inevitably shoot dance sequences. “When you go see a show, you can’t see everybody at the same time. Your eye naturally focuses on one person, and that’s what my camera tries to do. I just try to focus on the most important moment inside the piece…It’s always a selective eye, unless you use multiple screens, in which case the audience has to choose. I try to choose for the audience,” she explains.

A bouquet of Marie’s dance films was shown at a recent edition of Danzlenz, a Kri Foundation programme that presents films on dance. She was accompanied by her frequent collaborators - composer Alain Theriault and cinematographer Sylvestre Guidi.

Viewing his work in the context of Marie’s filmmaking, Sylvestre says, “She is always very, very prepared so that makes it lot easier for the cinematographer.” Alain met Marie 25 years ago, and started composing for films thereafter. “I am not a dancer so I have to soak in the emotion, learn the dancer’s language, and speak that language,” he says, explaining the process of scoring films.

After “De Julia à Émile 1949”, the trio presented their documentary “Dance For Your Life”. Although featuring a cross section of dancers – from Ballet to Bharatanatyam – the film tries to convey “that all dancers are in fact one.” “I had wanted to make a film to honour to dance profession. I wanted to talk about my experience indirectly through other dancers,” says Marie. Through interviews with dancers such as Vincent Warren, Estelle Clareton, Michael Cole and Margie Gillis among others, the director brings out their relationship with the stage, the importance of warming up, the issue of dance injuries, and their responses to ageing, all of which have a commonality.

Thereafter, they premiered a segment from a work-in-progress — a biopic about Vincent Warren — about men in dance. Explaining the motivations of her film, Marie says, “Vincent is now 75. He’s lived through several amazing decades…I am trying to do a chronological overview of his life, and through him look at the socio-cultural aspects of dance. I am trying to put the life of one artist in a broader perspective, trying to convey that dance is part of society, and it is important, whether you realise it or not.”