Choreographer Gabri Christa Explains the Art of Filming Dance

Screendance in action.
Screendance in action.
Photo by Heather Maloney

Gabri Christa is back. This is the third year Tigertail has invited the dancer/choreographer/filmmaker/Guggenheim fellow to its annual ScreenDance Miami festival. Her films opened the 2015 festival, and this year Christa will offer a hands-on workshop.

The dancer intends to focus her workshop on ways to direct dance for the camera. “With the camera, one can point an audience to precisely the detail of dance that one wants them to see.” Indeed, some of her films are studies in extreme close up of a finger, a forearm, an elbow. The results can be stunningly erotic in its fluidity. Everybody is welcome at her upcoming workshop. No technical expertise is necessary. “Some of the most interesting work I see is done on smartphones,” she says.

For all the awards won by this Curaçao native — there truly are too many to easily list — Christa welcomes each opportunity to teach. Her first dance film, High School, (which won an ABC TV award for Creative Excellence) came out of her experience working with teens in a New York City school.

Christa began her choreography at age 16. Her work led to opportunities to study on several continents. When plans to attend a movement institute in Senegal were interrupted, she accepted a friend’s casual suggestion to see what was happening with contemporary dance in Cuba. “There it was,” Christa says. “Dancers moving as I did; dancers working with the same mix of movement I loved — Caribbean, classical, and Martha Graham.” When Christa met fellow choreographer Marianela Boan, together they founded what became the internationally celebrated Danza Abierta.

Another turn of the wheel brought Christa to the States where she danced with Bill T. Jones for two years. “As terrific as that was, it is hard for a choreographer to be a dancer in another’s company.”

So once again, she started her own.

Choreographer Gabri Christa
Choreographer Gabri Christa
Courtesy of Artburst Miami

It was 15 years ago, with dance as film still in its infancy, that Christa began experimenting. “I found myself wanting to touch on social issues and history — things I couldn’t say as well on stage.” Much of the early work focused on Caribbean history and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. When that work was shown in museums, she was surprised by some reactions. “There were those who said, 'I just don’t get it.' Since it was a film, some expected it to have a linear narrative.

“Look at it as a painting,” she began suggesting during a Q&A session. “Let yourself imagine, as you do when you see a painting.”

Little by little the dance as film movement gathered strength.

Christa is the first to confess that “as a choreographer, it is hard for me to think linearly.” But that is precisely what she did recently when she took on a new project: the screenplay for an ecological thriller set in the Sri Lankan community of Staten Island. The film is pure narrative with no dance in sight.

Upcoming Events

Still, Christa is far from abandoning either dance — she is performing again — or her work with dance as film. Her latest project with the camera will be all dance. There’s a story she’s longing to tell through movement: It is of a town in Suriname, where a synagogue sits right next to a mosque with both communities in a peace for as long as anyone can remember.

“When I get an idea, I go ahead and make it happen,” she says. “That is both my strength and my weakness.”

— Elizabeth Hanly, artburstmiami.com

Gabri Christa leads Creating a New Point of View
On Saturday, January 23, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; there is no charge for the workshops, but admission to the museum is required, PAMM members free, $16 Adults.

ScreenDance Miami
Thursday, January 21, with an opening night of films, a talk, and film installation at 7 p.m. at PAMM, through Saturday, January 23, with numerous films and workshops at PAMM, Miami Beach Cinematheque, and Mindy Solomon Gallery. Visit tigertail.org/event_screendance16.html.


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