Thirty-nine Films About Dance, But No Centerstage

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In Busby Berkeley’s classic production number “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat,” the arrival of an army of chorus girls wielding life-size bananas always struck us as slightly sinister. But when the camera pans up and over to capture a kaleidoscopic shot of legs and fruit, you forget to question the implications of women dancing with enormous bananas and instead relish Berkeley’s over-the-top magic.

Berkeley is one of several dance luminaries who will be spotlighted in the 2009 Dance on Camera Festival, which launched yesterday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Dance on Camera runs through January 17 and includes 39 new, classic and experimental features and shorts.

The festival opens with Ballet Then and Now, a program that includes French documentarian Bertrand Normand’s Ballerina. From the first auditions at the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy, where skinny, shirtless little girls are stretched and prodded, to the first time dancing the lead in Swan Lake, the film offers a realistic look at what goes into the making of a professional.

Other highlights include works by Nederlands Dans Theater’s Jirí Kylián and flamenco star Antonio Gades, as well as a sneak preview of the new “American Masters” documentary on Jerome Robbins. A screening of the film, which features never-before-seen rehearsal footage, will be followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Judy Kinberg, Robbins biographer Amanda Vaill and choreographer Donald Saddler.