The great Scottish-Canadian experimental animator Norman McLaren once said that “every film is a kind of dance.” For him, being an animator was like “being a dancer at second-hand.” His love of dance expressed itself metaphorical as in his abstract interpretations of music in films like Boogie Doodle (1948) and Begone Dull Care (co-directed by Evelyn Lambart, 1949). He also explored the possibilities of choreographed dance on film by shooting real dancers in his breathtakingly beautiful 1968 film Pas de deux. In Pas de deux, McLaren was able to create beautiful shapes by overlapping frames of the ballet dancers in motion using step-and-repeat printing on an optical printer.
I was reminded of Pas de deux when watching Ayaka Nakata’s 2008 drawn animation Cornelis, a film that explores the possibilities of contemporary dance when the human figure is free from the restraints of gravity and the limitations of human movement. The film begins with a male figure dressed in red against a greyish beige background accompanied by ominous, suspenseful music by Kaoru Ura (浦馨). The figure, Cornelis, looks directly at the camera, raises his finger to his mouth and says “Shhh” several times. Soon his body begins to interpret the music in a contemporary style of dance.
|The essence of contemporary dance caputured in drawn animation. ©Ayaka Nakata|
Not only is Cornelis able to defy gravity and float, back arched, through the air, but his jacket slips on and off his body as if it too has come alive in order to dance. This impression is then justified when the jacket transforms into a white Doppelgänger of Cornelis and the two figures begin to dance with each other. The dance then moves into a repetition and variation sequence with clothes seamlessly coming off and transforming into new versions of Cornelis. When this sequence concludes there are five versions of Cornelis in red – but with differing heights and stances – standing in a row staring at the camera. The music, which predominantly features a piano, increases in both volume and tempo as these five versions of Cornelis begin to dance. This dance sequence becomes quite spectacular as Nakata experiments with different shapes and movements of the five figures including a pentagram and a cube. My favourite moment is when their bodies lose the restraints of a human skeletal structure and begin floating in the air like carp swimming in a pond. The dance ends with only one version of Cornelis remaining, floating in a tucked position with his shadow on the floor beneath him.
Although the animation is a mere three minutes long, it leaves a lasting impression. Nakata has both managed to capture the nuances of the human body engaged in contemporary dance – not an easy feat to do smoothly with hand drawn animation – while at the same time taking advantage of the possibilities of the animation medium to transform the dance into a surreal exploration of shape, form, space, and movement.
Ayaka Nakata (中田彩郁, b. 1983 in Saitama) is a graduate of Tokyo Zokei University. Upon graduation in 2007 she started working for Animation Staff Room. She designs and animates TV commercials and independent animation. Cornelis was a Jury Recommended Work at the 12th Japan Media Arts Festival in 2008 and went on to win awards at festivals across Japan.
2004 The Day When a Clicking-its-Tongue Bird Appeared
2005 The Needlework Room of Grandma (おばあちゃんの作業部屋, 2’54”)
2007 Kikimimi Act Two: Mirrors (聞耳 第2幕 鏡, 3’22”)
2008 Cornelis (コルネリス, 3‘18“)