Make it Easy by Ajay RS Hothi
'The simplest and most complex dance pieces or animated works have been created from a careful and thoroughly rehearsed set of signs and signifiers.'
If we take the (rather blunt) example of the zoetrope in action it is relatively easy to highlight how the lines demarcating the forms of dance and animation are able to intermix, in practical, thematic and conceptual terms. Both are artforms based on sequence and motion.
In her 1964 essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag makes a case for the reduction in the intellectualisation of critical theory in an encounter with artwork, instead preferring for the artwork in question to retain the power of immanence. There are pleasures to be gained from art that a critical or theoretical reading cannot be a substitute for, and to learn about the artwork the corresponding theory must support the artform.
Dance and animation are not popular, mainstream artforms - not in the sense that, for example, pop music, feature films or televisual light entertainment are profuse, pervasive and relentless. Dance, in one respect, is hindered by the fact that to truly understand the form there are certain nuances that require specialist knowledge (this is true of any artistic practice, and it is unfortunate that the subtleties of dance can go unnoticed by a large proportion of audiences). Animation, simply, is for kids. You’re talking about cartoons, right?
In semiotic terms, dance and animation are ideal subject matter. Both the simplest and the most complex dance pieces or animated works are developed with and have been created from a careful and thoroughly rehearsed set of signs and signifiers; even chance operations are based on a systematic process of rehearsal and discovery.
Colour, exaggerated movement and a playful approach to linear temporality make animation ideal introductions to moving image content for children – to say, though, that animation is of limited interest to audiences with a more refined set of aesthetic cultural values is to misunderstand an animator’s skill, as is, conversely, to say that the delicate notes created by a choreographer to emulate human emotion are alienating.
Both the animator and the choreographer/dancer must be master storytellers, generally reliant on slim verbal lexes but versed with the instinctive knowledge of international and culturally diverse sets of connotative and denotative symbols, easily recognisable and with the inherent vestiges of key narratives latent, but evident, in their potential use. It is in these artists honour that their work looks simple - a career aim for artists in any field would be able to ‘make it look easy’.
The animator and choreographer are expert communicators. The ability to undertake any such work requires some natural ability, to interpret it successfully requires a further strong communication skills and an element of finesse. However much animation and dance are processes of collaboration, the innate skill that an animator or choreographer must exhibit ultimately make both artforms displays of intensely personal acts. Being able to indulge in these personal acts does give the appearance, however false, of luxury.
The question of any potential success in merging the forms of dance and animation is, undoubtedly, ongoing. The forms are alike in both practical and conceptual terms; perhaps that what makes them comparable makes it difficult to extricate either of them as equivalent in their combined form.
Dance animation is an ill-fitting determinist nomenclature; its combination it is indicative of parallels but ultimately separatism. Even the term ‘animation dance’ would present a series of different options. It is interesting to note that despite the congruences between dance and animation, even in an historical setting (preceding what we know consider to be mainstream moving image), a sufficient corresponding lingua has not been reconciled and interpretive references are made by utilising (and, at times, adapting) common visual arts tropes.
It is entirely possible to construct such a language; the key would be to maintain a critical distance from the form. In this instance (and with apologies to Susan Sontag), we cannot even broach hermeneutics without luxuriating in the erotics of this art.
Ajay RS Hothi is a writer and documentary filmmaker. He is a research student in the Dept. of Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art, and is Manager & Curator of tank.tv.