Philippe Baylaucq’s “ORA” at the theatre with Dance Camera West

Last night I went to a dance-film screening and lecture, hosted by Dance Camera West, at MiMoDa studio in L.A. We skyped with filmmaker Philippe Baylaucq, after we watched his film, Ora (2011).

This unique film was made using two high-definition cameras that capture heat, 3D thermal imaging. Baylaucq actually got permission from the U.S. military to use these two military cameras, because they are not made for any other reason to this date. Philippe told us that the cameras had to be cooled using liquid nitrogen for 45 minutes after filming, and they stayed with military personnel at all times – how wild!

The film opens and closes with blurred images, it seems to emerge from, and return to, indefinable colors and energy. The first image is breath-taking; it looks like a microscopic happening of some sort with amoebas bending and changing. The small and curious amoeba blobs of light created a scientific context of life at the smallest scale. When the dancers then appeared in crisp form, I saw them as innately human because I was watching them through a scientific lens. Their forms were defined entirely by their body heat. As I watched their heat, something usually invisible to me, I envisioned their cells as these glowing amoebas. It was an intimate experience to see someone by only the heat of their body.

My undergraduate research is on the differences between watching dance film on-line verses in the theatre. I watched one of Philippe Baylaucq’s other films, Lodela (1996), on my cell phone two days ago, while waiting at the airport. After watching Lodela on my phone and watching Ora in the theatre, I feel like I had a more enriching experience watching Ora. The time and effort I put into attending Ora, the shared experience of watching the film with the group, and the immersive environment of music in the speakers, dimmed lights, and a large projector, all made the film more impactful to me.

Here is behind the scenes of Ora:

Watch Lodela here

I drove to see Ora, and sat down to this event with my full attention. When I watched Baylaucq’s film on my cell phone, I clicked on a link to watch the film while I waited for my flight to board. My main action at the time was waiting at the airport, and watching Lodela was a multitasking action.

No one else in the airport knew what I was watching on my phone, so the experience was isolating. When I watched Ora in the theatre, I was sharing the experience with a group. We discussed our thoughts and reactions to the film afterwards, and I could relate with the audience members more through the film. Of course, it was amazing to be able to talk to the filmmaker after watching his film; this was a big impact as well.

The theatrical elements of dimmed lights and surround sound really did immerse me in the film Ora. I felt like I was in the dancers’ abstract space on the screen for a short while. Watching Lodela in the airport was not immersive, but it did have a unique experience. My hand holding the phone was part of the field of view as I watched. It seemed like I was holding the small person that I was watching. I am very intrigued at the miniscule scale created by showing an extreme wide shot of a dancer on a small screen. I did not have headphones at the time, so the dance was to a score of the noise around me. This experience was not immersive, but it was unique in a way that I will never watch the film like that again, and next time I watch it on my phone it will be a drastically new experience.

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