Dancing with Heavy Machinery

Dancing with Heavy Machinery

Did I say I never get to watch movies? Well, not entirely true. I love movies so much that I generally won’t watch them if I can’t arrange to sit through a film in its entirety. But some movies (like light comedies) don’t suffer too much from being viewed over the course of 2 or more sittings.

So, my wife and I watched a variously inventive and charming film over a couple of nights last week: “Across the Universe“. Although I’m a huge fan of the Beatles’ music, the film had gotten lukewarm reviews, and I’d had no intention of seeing it. But a friend recommended it so highly that we rolled the Netflix dice and took a chance.

Firstly, I was very impressed, sometimes jaw-droppingly so, with the re-imagining of the Beatles’s music. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had always struck me as insipid faux-teenage puppy-love kind of stuff, with a melody that just wasn’t their best. In the film it’s done as a heart-wrenching ballad, and the lyrics, when divorced from the original bouncy beat, have a beautiful yearning in them that I’d never recognized before. There were many such moments in the film, where the depth of the Beatles music is revealed by audacious and brilliant arrangements.

Secondly, the visuals were often stunning (directed by Julie Taymor, of Lion King fame). The legendary puppet street-theatre troupe Bread and Puppet is used, and there was choreography that was grounded in the drama, not pasted on as it is so often in musicals. It reminded me very much of the work of ISO, the dance troupe that The Bobs did shows with in the 80’s. As the film rolled on, more and more of the choreography was SO brilliant, in a way that I have never seen outside of ISO. I was beaming to see such great work. And when the credits rolled by, why, surprise! – the Choreographer was indeed Danny Ezralow, from ISO. I’m so glad that some of his work has made it to the big screen, in such a fine way.

I searched for youtube examples of his work – there are some, but I would say just see “Across the Universe“. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is full of beauty.

And, 2 other members of ISO, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, have their own dance company called BODYVOX (in Portland, OR). They, too, have that powerful, witty ISO style that is so unique. I highly recommend catching them in Portland or on tour. And, they do happen to have a couple of youtube videos that are worth watching. They are short films, featuring dancing with heavy machinery. Do take a moment to watch:) Tons more, all good at director Mitchell Rose’s site.


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