I grew up watching Lucky and Penny spin about the dance floor. I knew their every line, and, more importantly, their every move, and their every move’s lines. Studied on a Beta video and later a VHS, their moving forms were so familiar to me. And perhaps through my repeated viewings I’d hoped for some sort of talent transference through the screen to me lying in Cobra on the floor, my chin resting in my hands. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as John ‘Lucky’ Garnett and Penelope ‘Penny’ Carrol, in George Stevens’ Swing Time (1936), were my idols in Primary School. They were natural and joyous to watch when they danced, and it was for the dance that I watched Swing Time.
They knew how to move and glide, and were utterly in tune with the other. Their mutual delight drew me in. They danced for the audience, and for each other, and at the end of each number they appeared to share a look of mutual respect that was outside of their characters, a sort of private yet public ‘thank-you for the dance; you were great.’ Thanks to Astaire’s insistence that all dance pieces should be filmed in as close to a single take as possible, with the whole of the figure visible, the effect now, as was then, is just like watching a live performance. The figure uninterrupted is free to tell its truth. Jean-Luc Godard would later echo this unbroken line sentiment in his films: “the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.”
Watching Swing Time, or indeed any Fred and Ginger film, it feels entirely plausible that dance numbers should spontaneously spark into being. That’s how people communicate. It all makes sense. All you need is a body, and we’ve all one of those. Though some, why, some can move with grace and rhythm as they speak their truth. As Martha Graham advised (and we’d all do well to adhere to): “there is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action [when you dance/make/do], and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
And so, as I sit now before the keyboard looking back over what I have seen this year, the pieces I recall are those that conveyed honesty and “an energy.” Unfeigned, full-hearted, call it what you will. With my eye, Godard’s camera, my life coach, Graham, and the effortless hover and charm of Lucky and Penny only in dream, let’s look back at 2016.