Making Tracks: an interview with Gabriela Tropia

There are only a handful of days until the return of Making Tracks, where musicians from The Cabinet of Living Cinema will re-soundtrack a series of dance-based short films as part of Kingston's international dance film festival, FRAME.

Joining the programme is Gabriela Tropia with her video triptych This Is How. Gabriela specialises in dance filmmaking and also works as a lecturer at the London Contemporary Dance School. She directed the short Units of Action, which has toured more than 20 countries, including the Live Screen event at Sadler's Wells in London. Her most recent project is an experimental collaboration with contact improvisation dancers, shooting and editing short films within a strict and limited timeframe.

In April 2015, Gabriela showcased her work at the performance-themed edition of ourSpotlights series, screening films including Units of Action and her most recent film Under the Cobblestones, which was awarded at the Passion for Freedom Arts Competition in 2014.

On seeing the call for submissions for next week's Making Tracks, Gabriela decided to make new work to complete her series of three films: This is how you made me feel, This is how my thoughts flow and This is how you sound.

this is how you made me feel from Gabriela Tropia on Vimeo.

We chatted to Gabriela about the story behind the videos, her reasons for submitting and the wider question of what makes a 'dance film'.

It’s been over a year now since we featured you at our performance-themed Spotlights event in April 2015. What have you been working on since?

Well… the main project I’ve been working on is growing a baby. Haha! It’s been going quite well! Baby Maya is 10 months old now. Apart from that, I’ve been trying to keep in touch with work during my maternity leave by lecturing at a few workshops and going to a conference on practice research. I’ve also done a bit of curating for the first time in early 2016. I’ve been asked to make a selection of student dance films for Dança em Foco, the biggest Screendance Festival of Brazil. That was actually really interesting and I might try to do more curating in the future. You can learn quite a lot about making films when you have to select the most interesting ones from a big pile of options. And I’ve also directed the third instalment of the This is How series that will be screened at Making Tracks in June.

We are screening 3 vignettes at Making Tracks, one of which was made with this event in mind. How do these films relate to each other?

The first film of the series This Is How You Made Me Feel was made in a burst of creativity. The idea for the movement material came to me very quickly and in quite a finished form. So I called my brilliant performer and friend Mariana Camiloti and on the next day we were shooting in Waterloo Bridge. Yet the thing that makes them all a series for me is the fact that they each represent a snapshot of a feeling or a state of mind. They are very short and there is not a lot of time to elaborate, so they are a bit like a punch in the face. They also have a similar aesthetics; they were shot at night with very narrow depth of field and have very defined formal structures in the montage.

Your work has been re-scored by The Cabinet of Living Cinema once before at a previous Making Tracks event; in August 2011 we screened your dance film Old House. How did you find the experience, and why did it inspire you to make new work especially for our event in June?

The re-scored Old House was the best version of that film, in my opinion. I really enjoyed the anticipation of watching my film with a completely new live score; a soundtrack I hadn’t heard before, being performed right then and there with musicians and instruments. I loved the feeling of being surrounded by the sounds.

Regarding the new short, I guess I felt inspired by the challenge of making a silent film to be played in that setting, a film that would lend itself for that format. The band plays live and, from what I observed, there is usually quite a lot of improvisation. So I started to imagine how I could structure the film in a way that creates a rhythm but also that allows the band some freedom. That is how I came up with the repetition and variation montage. It’s a bit difficult to describe. I guess people will have to go and experience it live!

The films you submitted for Making Tracks involve abstract movement, rather than a typical choreographed dance routine. What, in your opinion, makes a ‘dance film’?

Wow… This is such a complex question. Many academics and practitioners from the past few decades have tried to delineate the form and every now and again the issue of defining the genre pops up again. I try to be generous here: If you tell me that your film is a dance film, who am I to say it’s not, right?

Having said that, there seems to be a shared frame, a certain attention to movement and composition that is common in dance films. On one end of the spectrum, you can have a very well choreographed piece of dance that has been recorded and edited in a way that very much respects the continuity of the action. On the other end, there are some brilliant works in which there are no human bodies at all, or in which the human movement has been so manipulated by montage that the choreography exists in the edit, as opposed to the body. I see value (and try to create) within the entire spectrum!

Making Tracks will take place on Saturday 11th June at the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames. Find out more and book tickets

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