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Sharon Kinney captures the magic and motion of modern dance luminaries on video.

Preserving the Motion


"From the Horse's Mouth — The Documentary"
Virginia Commonwealth University's Grace Street Theater
Friday, Oct. 8
5:30 p.m.

Unlike other mediums, dance is an impermanent art, vanishing once all movements have been executed and the performers take their bows. What remains are the audience's impressions, susceptible to the fade of memory, and, if fortunate, a written account of the event.

Photographers have attempted to capture the darts and leaps of a dancer, typically winding up with a freeze of a single motion which may suggest the larger work, but not its complex timing and many intricate steps.

Since the advent of video, videographers have applied their mechanical eye to the moving body, some succeeding in creating a new art form, others flattening the three-dimensional form. Despite the inherent challenge of capturing dance on video, many persevere, inspired by the possibilities of video and the desire to ensure that the achievements of dancers and choreographers get recorded. With such an aim in mind, an entire organization has been established to explore ways to preserve dance: the National Initiative to Preserve America's Dance, a program administered at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

As part of its mission NIPAD awards grants to individuals with dance preservation in mind. One recipient is Sharon Kinney, a 15-year veteran of Virginia Commonwealth University's dance department and a one-time Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor dancer who left Richmond in 1997 to study choreography for film and video at UCLA.

In California, Kinney had been invited to perform in "From the Horse's Mouth," a loosely structured dance devised by choreographers James Cunningham and Tina Croll. Their idea was to bring together dancers and choreographers from New York's downtown modern and post-modern dance scenes. The performers were asked to improvise a short section while talking about their work. Kinney, recognized the coming together of so many talented dancers as a great opportunity. It was this event that she wanted captured on video.

Kinney interviewed many of the 24 luminaries of "From the Horse's Mouth," dancers such as Lestor Horton, Carmen DeLavallade, Gus Solomon Jr., Sara Rudner, and Viola Farber (who died a few months later). She filmed rehearsals, backstage warm-ups, sections of the performance and the reception.

"We're at an exciting time right now in documenting dance," Kinney says. "We need to capture dance on video, but how great to also have these people talk about their dance and get an overview of their work in their own words."

With help from a professional editor, Kinney painfully pared down 12 hours of footage to a 41-minute documentary. "I filmed a lot of close-ups," she explains. "You don't see whole pieces, but you hear their voices and get to see exactly what they mean. ... It's not the usual back-of-the-house performance record."

The original performance of "From the Horse's Mouth" received critical success when it was performed in 1998 at New York's Joyce Theater. The production is being revived for California with several original cast members. Kinney, meanwhile, has worked steadily at completing her video.

Richmond is one of a handful of sites where her video, "From the Horse's Mouth — The Documentary," will be seen during a free screening on Friday, Oct. 8 at Grace Street Theater. Cunningham and Croll set out to honor dance's recent past; Kinney ensured that its history will not be

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