First, the good news: the Whitechapel Art GalleryThe new exhibition is a grand spectacle, with eight films all involving choreography or movement. The crossroads between contemporary art and dance has long been a productive territory and here it is as fertile as ever.
But I must also warn you: it prescribes a specific route. You cannot fall in one piece and leave after a short while to see another. The films are presented in a timed sequence, with short intervals between each. And the total duration of the eight videos spread over two floors is more than two and a half hours. If you’re used to exhibits — even film and video screenings — allowing you to walk around at will, it might take some getting used to.
But bear with me. Each is truly rewarding viewing from start to finish: they reflect a wide range of geographies, subjects and styles, both in terms of filmmaking and choreography.
RESET (2020) by Alberta Whittle, made at the height of the Covid crisis and in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, is characteristically a collage. She merges original footage – close-up footage of Whittle herself as narrator, beginning “I’m trying to learn to heal”; Seductive lyrical movement by choreographer Mele Broomes in a domestic bedroom and country house garden – with found footage, such as a recurring image of a swimming snake and footage from Black Lives Matter protests. Whittle manages to be both contemplative and hard-hitting, while weaving a moving poetic narrative around contagion (ideas like viruses) and healing.
While Whittle is a fragmented narrative, a multitude of other forms of storytelling unfold through the show. Eglé Budvytyté’s strange but thrilling film Songs from the Compost (2020), for example, is an oblique sci-fi drama featuring six dancers in a beautiful but dark landscape of his native Lithuania, accompanied by a voice off sung through a Kraftwerk-like vocoder (“I’m a cyborg…a non-binary alien after the abolition of gender…a boundary between stone and animal intelligence”).
And hybridity and shifting identities are everywhere. British artist Hetain Patel’s film Trinity (2021) tells the story of Mina, a young Asian woman struggling with family pressures and superhero fantasies, through scripted dialogue and movements that blend Indian classical dance and martial arts. Faz Que Vai (Set to Go), a 2015 film by Brazilian duo Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, is a joyous exploration of frevo, a Brazilian carnival dance, where the complexity and fluidity of movement matches the non-normative body presence of the four dancers.
Each sequence of Wagner and Burca’s film ends with an extended close-up of the dancer’s face. And one of the main conclusions of this show is that cinema and dance together represent a singular form of art. Whether through the use of light in the costumes of the performers of Les Gayrillères (2022) by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz or the tight zooms and mid-shots of Alia Farid in Au temps du reflux (2019), Moving Bodies, Moving Images proves that film and video can lend intimacy and structure to performance, distinct from that which you experience on stage or in the gallery. It’s worth setting aside a morning or afternoon to see it.
Whitechapel Gallery, until January; whitechapelgallery.org