Communication through movement
Picture a beautiful lush forest in Sweden, four American dancers, five horses, six autistic Swedish performers—and the dancers have a deadline to perform in front of a crowd.
“Hästdans på Hovdala” is a story told through graceful movements accompanied by an equine performance, director David Fishel follows the cast in Sweden and documents the process of this unique dance.
Presented by Susan Lloyd and the Las Positas dance department, students and friends gathered in room 2420 on Sept. 21 to watch the documentary. Lloyd started with the introduction of the film and mentioned a Skype call with the choreographer herself, Joanna Mendl Shaw, which elicited some excited expressions from the audience.
Described as “blending the artistry of dance with the physicality of horsemanship” by Film Society of Lincoln Center, “Hästdans på Hovdala” is a documentary on the process of the performance and the bond between the dancers and the Swedish kids.
The American dancers were part of a group called Equus Projects and the performance was choreographed by JoAnna Mendl Shaw. The project is known for its on-site performances, using rural and urban landscapes as their stage.
Halfway through the film, an unexpected scene had the room bursting in laughter. During a serious practice, dancers were interrupted when the horse started eating everything it saw and started sniffing the camera.
During a Q&A Skype call with students, choreographer JoAnna Mendl Shaw, recollected the long hours during their rehearsals – spending an hour warming up, horsemanship training and working eight hours a day for two weeks before the performance. The film is director David Fishel’s first full length documentary according to Shaw and commends Fishel for doing “a great job of mixing the seriousness and the humor” making the film deeply moving and entertaining to the students watching.
Coreen Phittz, a friend of Lloyd’s, thought the film was moving. She also has a daughter who has autism, and found it amazing how kids with this condition are capable of focusing just as much as regular people do and that they had the patience to learn a whole routine for a performance. Lorena, a student at LPC, heard of the film through her Physiology professor and came to the presentation. It “changed her perspective.” Before seeing the film, she thought of people with autism as introverted. Now, she sees them in a different light and describes them as “smart and imaginative.”
Fishel’s documentary, although it’s about the process of a dance performance, gave the students a new insight through the whole notion of autism. “People with autism are in no way ‘retarded,’” said Shaw, “we learned how deeply imaginative (they) were and that the autistic brain works in pretty amazing ways.”