Peter Sparling Draws Inspiration From the Pandemic
Local dancer uses a green screen and found footage to make eclectic collage videos.
by Stephanie Sorter
Published in July, 2020
Peter Sparling, renowned performer and retired U-M dance professor, is dancing his way through the pandemic. He's produced over twenty pandemic-inspired dance videos since quarantine began, starting with a home studio tour filmed in the early days of lockdown. Because some episodes include nudity, his Vimeo profile may be better suited for adult viewers.
Each of Sparling's videos is an eclectic collage combining his modern dance skills with masterful video and sound editing. The videos, he explains, are made "with greenscreen, camera, editing software, painting and text to transpose my dancing figure onto the screen and create little worlds with and for it." In "Pandemic Paintbox," for example, two versions of Sparling in an apron interact with the painted backdrop behind them, telling the story of a painter trying to decide what to paint (Sparling is also a painter). In "A Shared Step on a Long Journey," a collaboration with Australian painter and printmaker William Kelly, Sparling's figures seem unaware of the vintage educational video on viruses playing behind them until they eventually fill the screen, wearing masks and miming hand washing.
Sparling says he started making the videos to "address themes of the pandemic in order to feel less isolated, useless and helpless, and to channel my rage." The topics vary, ranging from nude explorations of doctors and the fragility of the human body to poetic reflections on the way quarantine affects anger.
Sparling says dance adapts to video teaching only with difficulty. Although some motions can be taught in a limited space, students are missing out on the chance to move through larger studios and feel the "kinesthetic empathy" created by other dancers. However, he also believes that current technology and virtual teaching methods can "encourage autonomy and self-reliance among students" when it comes to finding places to dance. To put it into his own words, "have iPhone, will travel!"
[Originally published in July, 2020.]
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