Christopher Dolder plans to bring the classic sci-fi flick Metropolis into the modern age with compelling choreography and stunning visual effects at this year’s Dallas VideoFest.
Dallas — As is common when watching one of Christopher Dolder’s rehearsals there are multiple elements at work, including behemoth props, video projection and special lighting techniques. In this instance, Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction film Metropolis is playing on a screen above center stage while a dozen freshman dancers from the Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts ascend out of what will be the orchestra pit and up a 32-foot tall and 4-foot elevated raked stage. The dancers’ rigid posture and weighted toe heel walks parallel the architecture of the buildings in the movie’s opening scene.
The suspense of the moment is heightened by Austin-based composer Brian Satterwhite’s new film score which will be performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at the showing of Metropolis, Oct. 13, at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of Dallas VideoFest 28. As the next scene begins the dancers stop and face the audience on a diagonal to perform a series of robotic gestures in a cotangent.
On the other side of the stage will be a couple of platforms of varying heights that the dancers will maneuver around and on throughout the film. Mind you, none of these props were present at the rehearsal I watched last week in the basement of the Owens Arts Center at SMU. Instead Dolder showed me images of the stage layout on his phone as well as pictures of the raked stage which he built by hand in a warehouse off of West Commerce Street near Trinity Groves. “I wanted to build something that three dimensionalizesthe space and the film,” Dolder says. “I wanted to create something lofty to represent the upper world in the movie and something mechanical and chunky to represent the underworld.”
For those unfamiliar with the movie, Metropolis is the name of a Utopian society that exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When a wealthy youth (Freder Fredersen) discovers what is happening underground he tries to help the workers, which puts him at odds with the upper class and especially his father. This silent film has paved the way for other movies in the sci-fi genre, and Dolder observes that even through the movie was made almost 90 years ago its main theme of the one percent versus the other 99 percent is still relevant today.
With so much going on in the film already between the live music and various plot lines Dolder says his biggest challenge has been trying not to over conceptualize his contributions. “My goal is to enhance the film with live theater and multimedia; not detract from it with these components.” The main way Dolder is doing this is by incorporating only 30 minutes of contextualized movement into the 82-minute long movie. He focuses on iconic scenes such as the story of Babel and the creation of the robot as well as individual characters, including Freder, his love interest Maria, Freder’s father and Rotwang the Inventor to elevate the storyline without distracting from the film’s original intent.
Dolder explains, “When the film is busy, I am less busy. I use some of the iconography from the film as well as simple gestures to quantify the characters.” In some cases Dolder will replicate a scene such as when the workers are clustered together with the emphasis on their hands reaching upward. Other times he changes the dynamic of a scene with his use of speed and repetition such as a memorable scene where Freder switches places with one of the workers. As Freder struggles to move the hands on a giant clock in the film, Dolder has his dancer repeat the same winding movement sequence over and over, increasing his speed every time to the point of collapse. “I want the audience to feel nervous,” Dolder says.
Dolder’s background in Graham Technique is well-suited for this project. Graham’s signature back hinges, concaved shapes and constant weight exchanges among the dancers complement the radical themes of the movie. During the retelling of the story of Babel, the dancers use compulsive arm gestures to emulate speaking in tongues. As the dancers grab and pull their hands away from their mouths Dolder shouts out encouragements such as “speak louder” and “make people watch.”
This is the first time a collaboration of this magnitude has been attempted here in Dallas. Will the addition of movement, set design, video projection and live music amplify the audience’s overall experience or will it be too much visual stimuli? Viewers can find out for themselves when the Video Association of Dallas kicks off Dallas VideoFest 28 with its showing of Metropolis Oct. 13 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The festival runs through the 18th and features approximately 125 screenings of local, region and internationally produced media art programs. More information is available at www.videofest.org.
This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.