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When considering the vast scale of destruction humans have wrought upon the earth, it can be easy to forget that people are an inextricable part of the natural world. The “dance for film” Secondary Succession, directed by Zap McConnell and presented by Julie Rothschild Movement, effortlessly balances both of these truths. Much of the film is set within the stark bones of a disused military fort that is gradually being reabsorbed into the greenery of a seaside forest. The damage and suffering of war that the fort represents is being recognized, recorded and experienced by the film’s characters, and through their processing one senses a hope of healing.

This isn’t a film about dance, or a dance film, or even simply a film. It is an evocative experiment that utilizes elements of dance’s visual and visceral power to explore and address a multitude of things. With film, there is a greater degree of control over the viewer’s eye than in live performance. Complex themes can be approached image by image, with less chance of losing the intended thread along the way. Secondary Succession is more than visual, however; the audio is practically an additional character, immersing one in halls of sea, shore, forest and cement.

It becomes evident that time is a fluid element here. The apparel of the characters changes in a blink without a break in their strides– are they repeating the same journey over and over?–, characters flash in and out of being as if the building itself is remembering, and messages are sent into the past. In one scene, three dancers move amongst three concrete pillars, seemingly undergoing the same struggle in three parallel timelines. Though they are separate, they are connected, and are much more similar than different. At another point, a person gracefully emerges from a mound of water-smoothed stones and one cannot be sure if she was underneath the whole time or spontaneously manifested from the available matter.

Secondary Succession’s careful and generous observation of the everyday miracle that is the natural world gives equal gravity to its human and non-human aspects. All is considered with a kind of grave clarity that can be enlightening and enthralling. The performers do a fantastic job of taking us to a place that is recognizable but unfamiliar. The film itself does not rush through the luminous moments that are often available but rarely appreciated, or look away from some of the darkest edges of pain. It reminds us that there are ways upon ways to see, be and act, and that it falls upon us to “keep telling the stories, so as not to repeat them.”

This work was screened at the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colo., on the evening of October 22, 2017. See a teaser here and click here to contact the producer, Chicken Bank Collective, for more information.

Jane E. Werle: As an infant Jane E. Werle, unable to protest, was removed from Colorado by her well-meaning parents. In 2004 she was able to rectify this error when she relocated from Massachusetts to Boulder for graduate school. One M.F.A. and a husband later, Jane works to further the arts in the Front Range as a writer/editor and dance enthusiast (no-shame, first-on-the-floor amateur– despite some training– dancer). Jane is also a longtime nanny and a visual artist, taking one of these very seriously and the other as a growth experience. Every child she’s cared for has experienced some form of the SDP: Spontaneous Dance Party.