The contemporary experience of dance, as viewed from the comfort of home rather than in person, tends to be dominated by gimmicks – competition, compilation, viral trends – rather than artistic vision. And so it is no small feat that the US director and choreographer Jacob Jonas and his Jacob Jonas The Company (JJTC) have captured the sustained attention of both the dance community and fickle internet crowds with a series of eclectic, experimental modern dance films. Born amid the pandemic’s live performance freeze, JJTC’s digital platform Films.Dance features digital shorts that liberate the form from the stage, transforming everywhere from the sprawling concrete of Los Angeles, to the streets of London, to the wilderness outside of Cape Town into venues for the company’s cross-form collaborations.
In the post-lockdown era, Films.Dance has evolved from a showcase for COVID-safe projects into a platform for works that, at their best, realise the potential of dance and film to work in tandem. With impressive craftsmanship both behind and in front of the camera, the pieces evoke the German filmmaker Wim Wenders’s documentary Pina (2011), which, shot in and around the city of Wuppertal, translates celebrated works by the German modern dance master Pina Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal into arresting short films.
ENTROPY, which features dancers from the London-based Hofesh Shechter Company performing choreography by the Nigerian dancer and choreographer Ochai Ogaba, is perhaps the platform’s most instantly gripping work to date. The film immerses viewers in a stark black-and-white world populated by bodies that, through visual effect, resemble the ethereal images that emerge from full-body airport security scans. Against a blank background, these uncanny figures twist, bend and touch, struggle to escape tangled curtains, dangle from ceilings, and, on occasion, synchronise with one another in seemingly convulsive fits of movement.
The UK director Joshua Stocker captures the dancers from a flurry of perspectives, toying with the framing and cutting between sequences at a rapid and irregular pace. Eschewing recurring patterns and motifs, Stocker never quite lets the viewer acclimate to the peculiar spectacle and, in doing so, makes it almost impossible to turn away from it. The rhythmic backbone of the film is drawn from the music – an unrelenting whirr of horns and galloping percussion from the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Bendik Giske. There’s an ecstatic sensibility to each element. Together, they form a propulsive force that reaches beyond the sum of its parts.
At a visceral level, ENTROPY reverberates with unease and strangeness, but its meaning is elusive. The title, which evokes gradual breakdown and decay, might indicate a meditation on uneasy times, where all systems seem to be spiralling towards chaos. Yet a small bit of text accompanying the film reading ‘The traces we leave behind’ seems to hint at something less cerebral and more human. But, ultimately, like so many works of art, it is perhaps more fulfilling to experience ENTROPY than to attempt to fully grasp it – especially in a digital space starved of ambiguity and originality.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Director: Joshua Stocker
Choreographer: Ochai Ogaba
Producer: Tano Noblia
Composer: Bendik Giske
Website: Jacob Jonas The Company