IMPRESSIONS: Pontus Lidberg's "Written on Water," Presented by the 49th Dance on Camera Festival at the Walter Reade Theater
July 16, 2021
Choreographer/Writer/Director: Pontus Lidberg
Cast: Aurélie Dupont, Alexander Jones, Pontus Lidberg, Stina Ekblad and Leslie Caron
Producers: François Duplat, Amaury Lafarge, Pontus Lidberg and Mary Ellen Obias
Director of Photography: Martin Nisser FSF
Composer: Stefan Levin
Sensuality is perhaps the only constant in a dancer’s life, as evident in Pontus Lidberg’s 81’ film Written on Water which opened the 49th Dance on Camera Festival at the Walter Reade Theater. Lidberg invites us to savor sensations experienced on a daily basis such as the moment your head hits the pillow and you sink below the surface into the watery depths of your subconscious. Written on Water is emotionally cubist in its disjointed manner. Rehearsals, relationships, narratives are all interrupted; set-ups are just that — mere possibilities. The repeated motif in the choreography is of a couple folding onto the floor, one person cradling the head of the other as they descend. A suggestion of a wonderful beginning, yet without a middle or an end.
The film’s key achievement is making the visual tangible, transferring the kinetic sensation of touch and light: a foot hesitates before crunching a puddle, light sliding on water bubbles in the grass, light softening a naked man lying on his bed, light enveloping a woman slowly walking down a long hallway. Lidberg urges us to stop and smell the roses, but be aware of illusions. When we touch someone, he says early in the film, we feel as though we know them, but we don’t. He might have been humming along with Louis Armstrong's “You must remember this, A kiss is just a kiss.”
This Swedish dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker introduced his film by remarking on the importance of Dance on Camera Festival in his film career. He has come to NYC for the showing of all his films, and remembers fondly the first time he came as a young “nobody who slept on the couch of a friend of a friend of a friend.” As the director of Dance Films Association at the time of his first film, I included Pontus on a radio program hosted by WBAI. In some ways, he hasn’t changed; he exudes a calm, self-assured cool. Each of his films is quite different from the other, though he always blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
Could Lidberg be haunted by the Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, especially in the spoken word scenes in which he appears with Aurélie Dupont. They are fraught with tension and formality, while the dance scenes are free and relaxed. He shot Written on Water in Havana, Martha’s Vineyard, and Sweden to make us feel that we are in an imaginary zone. He deliberately aims for inconsistency and invites you to connect the dots. Why he switches the main character involved in the thwarted love story from female to male, or introduces a prop, such as a mask or a water tank, without consequence is not clear.
As Lidberg said in the post-film Q & A, he makes a film every four or five years, while he choreographs works four or five times a year. He just finished a ballet that will premiere next week. He’s already working on a new narrative film which perhaps we will see at the next Dance on Camera Festival.
Founded by Susan Braun in 1971, the Dance on Camera Festival produced by Dance Films Association and Film at Lincoln Center is the oldest dance film festival in the world. It continues thanks to the consistency of curator Liz Wolff at the helm.