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FILM REVIEW: Lincoln Center Dance on Camera Festival’s DFA Global Initiative—“Blind Dancer” is a Tender Journey into the Light

by Bonnie Rosenstock
July 20, 2019
“Blind Dancer” (“Blind Danser”)
Directed and written by Maria Lloyd
2019/Norway/22 minutes/in English
Because of the blackout on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Sunday, July 13, the screening of “With Merce,” directed by Charles Atlas (2009) at the Walter Reade Theater was cancelled. Fortuitously, I met the Norwegian filmmaker and producer of “Blind Dancer,” Maria Lloyd and Cecilie Bjørnaraa, respectively (plus Lloyd’s daughter) at the foot of the stairs to the theater when I noticed their VIP badges and forlorn looks. After they lined up to buy a food cart meal (all the restaurants were closed), we headed to nearby Lincoln Center and had a lovely interview under a tree in the waning hours of daylight. The next day Bjørnaraa sent me a screener.

“Blind Dancer” was one of three featured short documentaries that had their world premiere at the Lincoln Center Dance on Camera Festival’s DFA Global initiative (July 14), which provides a platform of support and dialogue with screen dance filmmakers. This year was dedicated to women from different countries who had surmounted significant odds.

The film begins in blurs and gradually opens into light. We are in a library in Oslo, Norway, where Hege K. Finnset Eidseter works as a children’s storyteller. Secreted in the bookcases, she feels her way doing some improvised dance movements.

Lloyd met Eidseter when she was asked to do a short film about a choreographer, who was working with Eidseter, not a professional dancer, and four professional dancers. “I realized there was some kind of belittling in the way the choreographer treated the blind performer, who was very fragile,” she said. “She was very old school.”

Lloyd also knew Moroccan-born Said Gharbi,” a very strong professional blind dancer,” who has lived in Belgium since the late 1960’s and has been blind since age 14. As a young adult, Gharbi met the Flemish choreographer Wim Vandekeybus of Ultima Vez while studying at the Braille League in 1992. Vandekeybus was looking for blind dancers for one of his productions. After numerous collaborations with Vandekeybus (1992-2001), Gharbi founded Les BGM (Les Ballets du Grand Miro) with his wife, Ana Stegnar, a dancer and Skinner Releasing facilitator, where they create dance theater pieces.

“He is so full of energy, strong in his movements, has no sight and no fear when he moves,” said Lloyd. “I had to have her meet him.”

The resulting film, said Lloyd, “is more about Hege’s journey to find herself than this perfect choreography that we were interested in. What she wants to be, her ambitions. I felt I wanted to know more about her side than making a beautiful thing at the end.”

Eidseter talks about her alienation from her arm. which she uses to touch and feel, but doesn’t feel connected to. “People grab my arm and push me around,” she said. “You depend on them, but it’s invading.” She hits her arm repeatedly and wants to cut it off. “I have to keep a distance from my own arm. It’s not totally mine.”

She and Gharbi work together in his airy studio in Molenbeek, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Brussels, which since 2016 has been known as a safe haven and breeding ground for terrorists and where many dancers have studio spaces. The film is “a hybrid meeting, a mixture of fiction,” said Lloyd. “I had written a few scenarios and then documented what happened when two blind people meet for the first time.” She was assisted by English choreographer Antonia Grove.

There are many contrasts between the two. Gharbi, a Muslim man and comfortable with his body after years of dancing, can only see black. “He was more tender, almost a romantic lead,” observed Lloyd. Eidseter, a Christian woman and not sure how her body works, can see some colors. “She calls it a light sensibility of light and color,” said Lloyd. “She can see some strong colors, so we worked a lot being quite impressionistic and trying to see her POV.”

The cinematography by Harald Gunnar Paalgard captured the beauty of their dance encounters.The duo danced in close up, touching. He moves, she has her hands on his shoulders. They hold hands, he moves, she mostly stands in place and laughs uncomfortably. They danced in the city, in dreamlike sequences. The stop frame ending was a “fun thing because she’s a librarian,” said Lloyd. “She loved it inch by inch, but Said couldn’t stand it,” she admitted. “Harald, such a master, made a very special touch for the images, which is very much suited to Maria’s vision,” said Bjørnaraa.

Said Lloyd, “The beautiful thing about dance film is it can tour around the world and there’s no language barrier. It has its own life.” However, Lloyd shot the film in English so that more people will see it. She is currently editing a short film on the making of “Blind Dancer,” where more will be illuminated.
The film's main character Hege K. Finnset Eidseter.

The film's main character Hege K. Finnset Eidseter.

Photo © & courtesy of K.F. Eidseter

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