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The Importance of Quality Video

Elements of Quality Video

There is no substitute for quality video footage. The quality of the finished video program, whether it be archival or promotional, can never surpass the quality of the source video. Similarly, the nature of the dance event or the economic means of the company may allow only one opportunity to videotape a performance, and footage created during that shoot will serve to represent the dance event for the historical record. Creating quality video footage at the outset of a documentation project insures strong building blocks for the compilation of the final video product. In its reformulation of dance preservation techniques, the LADD Project chose to focus on this first, most important step of video documentation.

The endeavor to improve and preserve dance video documentation has three sides. A technical side, an aesthetic side and a planning base to both.

Judith Sims
LADD Fellow

The caliber of the video equipment and the closeness of the collaboration between artistic director and videographer are the two main elements necessary for the creation of quality video footage. In its effort to improve the quality of dance documentation, the LADD Project chose to establish a methodology that entailed the use of two broadcast quality cameras operated by specially trained videographers in close, two-way communication with the artistic directors.

The Two-Camera Approach
Responding immediately and decisively to the challenges posed by the preservation crisis, NIPAD identified the use of more than one camera as critical to quality documentation and mandated a multiple camera approach as a condition of the grant. Moving from one to two cameras imparts a critical additional dimension to the visual record, not merely improving the quality of the video footage, but advancingit to the next level of art, professionalism and historical legibility. A dance video is not a copy of a dance performance, but a representation of it. No amount of communication between the videographer and artistic director before the performance can allow the artistic director to inform all the choices that must be made by the videographer on the fly during the live shoot. The two-camera approach decreases the number of decisions that the videographer must make in situations that preclude consultation with the artistic director. The resulting documentation, then, includes more than one point of view, and the record captures an intimate glimpse of representative details while simultaneously portraying the entire range of the performance's action.

The Two-Camera Equipment Package

The equipment quality is also very important. I've had a lot of people do things free for me. Please do not get anybody to do anything free for you. It just doesn't work. Pay them; it's worth it. It's really worth it. Because if you're getting somebody who is going to do some-thing free for you, that's the quality of the work that you're ultimately going to get.

Yasmen Sorab Mehta

In support of this approach and in service to the significant advancement of documentation quality, the LADD Project, in partnership with BAVC, purchased a pair of S-VHS cameras and other essential video gear, bridging significant economic obstacles to the two-camera shoot. The specific camera models obtained were chosen for their durability, adaptability to low-light conditions (important for theater taping), and ease of repair. Incorporating three-chip technology, these cameras were designed for use in the broadcast environment and are widely employed by television stations in the U.S. The high-end S-VHS cameras are less expensive than Betacam cameras (the broadcast industry standard-one Betacam camera is approximately twice the price of two S-VHS cameras) and use cheaper tape stock. The cameras can produce broadcast quality video, that is the images can be aired on television, at a cost substantially lower than afforded by a comparable Betacam package. Adding a two-camera equipment package to the LADD Project's collective resources allowed artistic directors to articulate larger dreams for their videos and enabled videographers to make those dreams a recorded reality. Beginning in January of 1997, BAVC will make the two-camera S-VHS package available for the exclusive use of dance videographers at a subsidized rental rate that is far below comparable marketrental rates.

Communication and Collaboration

What really works for me is when a video artist and a choreographer come together and create a work that has a life of its own, that recreates, in as articulate a way as possible, what this piece of choreography is about. A choreographer sits down in a timely way, with a video artist, and together they find the most effective way to document [the performance].

Judy Nemzoff
Talent Agent and Booking Manager

The highest quality camera, however, cannot produce good images unless it is in the hands of a trained operator familiar with the performance as well as the equipment. The LADD Project recognized a correlation between the quality of the footage and the videographer's knowledge of the subject matter he or she was shooting. In order to encourage and facilitate a basic working knowledge of the performance as well as the camera, LADD emphasized the importance of initiating communication before the camera ever rolls tape. Even if a close partnership between videographer and artistic director is not possible, the most basic conversations about form and content possess productive value and can greatly improve video quality.

Merging two mediums such as dance and video requires a learning process. It is imperative that the videographer achieve a close knowledge of the performance and respect for the artistic director's intent before shooting begins. Towards this end, the artistic director must provide the videographer with cultural and artistic direction and should be willing to learn about the technical and aesthetic characteristics of video as a medium in order to ease the transition from stage to videotape.

Aesthetic components of a dance work that must be conveyed in similar terms on video include form, content and context. Form is the physical manifestation of the work. Under the rubric of form falls the movement vocabulary, the choreographic structure, staging, props, sound and costume. Content is the "story" the work tells; a story can be narrative, abstract or simply the form itself. Context encompasses the work's historical, artistic and cultural roots, referring to the traditions upon which the creation or presentation of the new work draws. The traditions that inform context include the performance environment, as well as artistic and cultural influences. In ethnic dance in particular, the context can determine a dance's form and content; that is, form, context and content are inextricably interconnected. Moving from the three-dimensional space of live performance to the two-dimensional screen of video is a process of translation that must address form, content and context alike if the video is to become a "true" historical representation of the work. The smooth execution of this translation requires the videographer and the artistic director to work together.

One of my primary goals is to make contemporary work commercially viable without changing the work, and one of the main ways to do it is through media, and we need videographers and we need partners to be able to do that. It's about marketing.

Dean Beck-Stewart
General Director
Theater Artaud

The LADD Project developed a "best case scenario" for the creative partnership between videographer and artistic director. This relationship entails learning to speak the same language, attempting to see through each other's eyes, and forging a mutual understanding of the performance's form, content, and context. A gap will inevitably exist between the "best case scenario" and the conditions at hand, but this does not render inapplicable the standards and methodologies devised in the course of the LADD Project. A relationship to the artistic director's entire body of work, general aesthetic sensibility, and cultural tradition, can serve to inform the videographer of artistic intent. Familiarity with past performances can be substituted for a specific grasp of the current piece. Videographers who have experience in the dance field, ties to the dance artists, institutions, and cultural traditions, and a working knowledge of the history of the performance genre to be documented can create better footage in "cold shoot" situations than skilled videographers lacking an understanding of dance. In short, in the absence of close communication between videographer and artistic director, the best dance videographers are those who are active citizens in the dance community.

Practical Applications for Quality Video

With quality video footage as a building block, not just one but many applications are made possible. Footage can be preserved in the long, unedited format, portraying the performance in its entirety, or it can be fashioned into a short promotional piece. Investing in quality video footage engenders increased choices in the decision-making process and places the following practical applications well within reach:

Creating video archives

Videotape allows you to present your work as an artist and let it stand alone in the decision-making process. Will we book this artist? Will we do a feature story on this artist? It's an important tool for me to leverage coverage in print.

Jo Ann Driscoll

Video archives of dance performances allow us to remember work done by those who are no longer living and to preserve cultures and traditions that are fading out or under-represented. In the history of performance, videotapes, which encompass sound and movement, are the most comprehensive artifacts that a work can leave behind. To create a moving record of the history of dance will make it possible to trace where the discipline has been and to look ahead to its future.

Improving booking potential

When cost issues make it difficult for presenters to travel across the country or the world to view new work, a well-crafted performance video can be relied upon to convey the spirit, content and composition of a work more clearly than reviews, stills, or verbal recommendations. Video helps not only to secure bookings, but also to aid presenters in promoting the company in the community. A professional performance video becomes the proverbial foot in the door that gains dance companies entrance to national and international venues. Educating presenters about work with which they are less familiar can provide underrepresented artists and forms with increased opportunities for touring.

Enhancing funding applications

In a competitive market for contributed support through funding agencies, funders and panels increasingly rely on quality, full-length performance video to cull award recipients from large pools of applicants. Investing in quality video improves a company's past funding status by making available clear and meaningful representations of a dance artist's work. Educating decision-makers improves fundability and visibility in the contributed income market.

Contributing to the artist's process

Video is a valuable tool for evaluating performances, restaging work or designing technical elements. A performance video can be viewed many times, with high and low points demonstrated visually to the dancers. If an artistic director chooses to restage a dance from the company's repertoire or if a company wants to reconstruct another artistic director's work, video will visually convey the quality of the dance movement, the overall choreographic structure and the relationship between dancers in ways that dance notation does not offer. Additionally, lighting designers and technical directors use videotapes of dance works to aid their design process and to make the scripting of cues simpler.

Invigorating the research and education market

Video aids historians, critics, ethnologists and writers in composing in-depth analyses of dance styles and choreographic development. Fast-forward, rewind and slow motion allows performances to be viewed repeatedly and enables the viewer to isolate movements or sections of a dance. Video allows researchers to produce more objective analyses than allowed by relying on their memory of a performance or by dancing themselves. Teachers of dance composition, dance history or world dance likewise utilize video in the classroom to observe and communicate critical dance issues and concepts pertaining to those subjects. In current research and educational contexts video documentation is an important key to historical dance research and cross-cultural comparison. Video is also a learning tool for young or emerging choreographers and artistic directors.

Accessing television broadcast markets

The electronic media is just exploding. And you might say, well, why aren't they covering more of the arts scene? And I talked to a variety of producers and reporters and what they tell me is, we get tapes that are not really broadcast quality. So the quality of the video, at least for TV purposes, is very important.

Jo Ann Driscoll

"Broadcast quality" is a term describing video footage that meets the technical standards set by the television industry. Broadcast standards are defined by National Television Standards Committee and are based on required levels of color and light saturation. Simply put, unless footage possesses significant news value, video that does not meet broadcast quality standards is not likely to be aired. Publicists, presenters and producing companies constantly receive requests for footage from local network affiliate and public television stations. If quality video is available to television stations before or at the outset of a performance run, the local news will be more likely to provide coverage of the arts event. Whether the coverage consists of a public interest program interviewing the artist or a local news blurb promoting production dates, the resulting video feature can fill seats, consequently increasing revenue from ticket sales. Promotional coverage can also take the form of a Public Service Announcement (PSA), a 30 or 60 second edited spot that television stations routinely air in service to the community. And of course with broadcast quality footage a longer piece can be edited to create a stand-alone televised version of the entire performance work. Making broadcast quality video available to dance companies removes technical obstacles that have limited access to television coverage in the past.