Interview with a dancer

Onscreen and onstage, DCDC dancer Sheri Williams continues to “Sparkle”

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Earlier this year, Wim Wender’s “Pina” dazzled dance enthusiasts with its ability to place cameras onstage among the dancers to create a sensation of being gracefully and effortlessly in the flow. Yet, even with 3D technology to enhance this further, there was still a divide between the performers and audiences. More intimate portraits of individual performers could help cover the remaining distance, and that’s exactly what “Sparkle,” from Dayton filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, aims to accomplish.

“Sparkle” took the Audience Award for Best Documentary Short at this year’s SilverDocs Festival, the largest showcase for documentary films in the US, and now it will be featured as part of a unique screening event this Friday at the Dayton Art Institute. Besides the film, the event will also include a live performance by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) and Sheri “Sparkle” Williams, the subject of this award-winning short.

I spoke with Williams via email about career challenges and mixing performance media, and here’s what she had to say.

DCP: I have worked with Steve and Julia in the past, covering their films or their support of film projects in the region thanks to their efforts with FilmDayton. How did “Sparkle” come about, and were you familiar with each other’s work prior to the project?

Sheri Williams: Julia contacted me during December, a few months after my injury. She asked if I would be willing to allow a probe into the road to my recovery, which would be documented via film, pitched to PBS along with other prospects by other filmmakers, and possibly aired on PBS as a series. I was familiar with Julia and Steve’s film “The Last Truck” and they had attended DCDC performances, but we had never met before embarking upon the unforgettable journey that was to come.

DCP: Does the film focus more on your personal journey (as a result of the injury) or the impact of dance on your life?

SW: The film focuses on my attempt to recover in time to make DCDC’s February performance. It displays the hard work and discipline necessary to succeed when the odds should be, and are very much, against you.

DCP: You are performing in conjunction with the screening on Nov 2nd. How do you feel the film prepares the audience for the experience of watching your live performance?

SW: I think the film will rally support for what’s been achieved, and in so doing will entice the audience to want to see for themselves just how well I’m doing.

DCP: Is the film able to capture dance, as you see and feel it, on the stage? I’m curious because there was a film earlier this year, “Pina,” that used 3D effects and placed cameras on stage among the dancers, and as a viewer/critic, I was astounded by the visceral sense it evoked.

SW: To be honest, nothing will ever replace or capture the lure, intensity, excitement and/or rapture of live dance. With that said, the dance on film I’ve experienced does one of two things: it forces the viewer to see whatever the person behind the camera feels is important during any given moment in a piece, or with the use of special effects, it adds nuances which are unachievable without such technology, therefore creating something other than reality.

The flipside of those criticisms is that the camera can also unveil a side of performance that is usually never seen by an audience. What goes on in the wings – the backstage area usually closed from view – can shed a revealing light onto what the dancers go through while not on stage. Seeing the ballet at angles other than straight-on can add a dimension that the choreographer may have never even considered. Whether such exposure would be distracting, or even warranted, is up to individual response.

“Sparkle” will be shown at a special screening at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, on Friday, Nov. 2. For tickets to this event, visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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