Spheres, a film by Norman McLaren and René Jodoin

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Norman McLaren’s dance films were a late development, previous decades having been spent creating animated films in a variety of techniques. Many of these were abstract works with a musical accompaniment, as is Spheres (1969), one of McLaren’s last films in this style. It’s not completely abstract: a butterfly keeps interrupting the multiplying spheres which dance through space to a piano piece by Bach. This being a Canadian production, it’s fitting that Glenn Gould is at the keyboard.

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Ballet Adagio, a film by Norman McLaren
Pas de Deux by Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren

Ballet Adagio, a film by Norman McLaren

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In which Norman McLaren once more brings film technology to the world of dance. McLaren’s earlier Pas de Deux (1968) used optical printing to multiply the movements of the dancers in a manner similar to Marey’s chronophotographs; in Ballet Adagio the entire dance is shown in slow motion, a common enough technique but one you seldom see applied to ballet. The music is Albinoni’s Adagio. The latter technique was employed again in the homoerotic Narcissus (1983) which can be seen in full at the NFB website.

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Lodela, a film by Philippe Baylaucq
Pas de Deux by Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren

How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels, a film by Craig Welch

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Craig Welch’s 11-minute film was made in 1996. It’s a beautifully drawn and conceived piece of work, vaguely surreal as animated films often are but also with some Symbolist qualities:

Welch has stated that one of the original influences for the film was Arnold Böcklin’s painting Isle of the Dead as well as Norman McLaren’s 1946 NFB animated short A Little Phantasy on a 19th-century Painting, which incorporates the Böcklin work.

A pity, then, that Welch doesn’t appear to have made anything since. Watch How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels here. (And thanks to Jescie for the tip!)

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Secret Joy of Falling Angels, a film by Simon Pummell
Les Jeux des Anges by Walerian Borowczyk
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski

Lodela, a film by Philippe Baylaucq

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The soul leaves the body. Drawn by intense light, the spirit discovers its twin self, its feminine side…its guide in the beyond. Inspired by the myths of the afterlife, this allegorical dance piece illuminates the soul’s quest by exploring movement and the human body in new and astonishing ways. An evocation of the origins of the world. A hymn to the beauty of the human form. A celebration of movement.

Lodela (1996) was a production for the National Film Board of Canada, and in many ways it acts as a response to (or evolution from) an earlier NFBC film, Norman McLaren’s justly-celebrated Pas de Deux (1968). Both films depict an encounter between two dancers in an abstract black-and-white space; both films also take advantage of their medium to present dance in a manner that would be impossible on a stage. In McLaren’s film the dancers’ movements are multiplied via optical printing, a process that gives their gestures a liquid, hallucinatory grace.

For Lodela Philippe Baylaucq has his dancers (José Navas and Chi Long) situated on an illuminated circle surrounded by the dark, one side of which is shown in negative. He also does some simple things with the camera which are nevertheless strikingly effective and unusual in a dance piece, such as filming the dancers upside down, and attaching the camera to their bodies for dizzying close-ups. Choreographers (and dancers, for that matter) often get agitated if dancers’ bodies aren’t shown in full so this latter piece of direction is very unusual. Watch the film here. Pas de Deux, incidentally, is also on the National Film Board of Canada’s Vimeo channel, and in much better quality than earlier YouTube versions. Watch them together.

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Pas de Deux by Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren

Pas de Deux by Norman McLaren

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Norman McLaren’s 1968 film is not only one of the greatest ballet films ever made, it’s also an astonishing combination of high-contrast photography and optical printing. Choreography by Ludmilla Chiriaeff, dance by Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren, music by Dobre Constantin and the Folk Orchestra of Romania. YouTube isn’t the ideal medium to watch anything like this but there’s now a quality copy here in all its 13-minute glory. If you’ve never seen it, do so before it vanishes.

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Norman McLaren