Loretta Fahrenholz’s “dystopian sci-fi street dance film” Ditch Plains (2013, HDV, 29 mins) opens with disquieting shots of crumpled bodies “playing dead” on deserted late night city streets. Shot in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, these opening scenes reflect and document the real life attempts to manage disaster in East New York. The film juxtaposes documentary footage shot in Far Rockaway with a series of surreal scenes following members of the Ringmasters Crew, a Brooklyn-based dance group. Known for “Flexin,” an innovative style of “bone-breaking” contortionist dancing, dancers Ringmasters Corey, Jay Donn, and Marty McFly improvise dream-like digital battles, a stop-and-search role-play, and unsettling scenes of zombie walks and spirit exorcisms like “avatars running through the levels of an apocalyptic video game.”
The dancers move as if possessed, roaming through nocturnal scenes of devastation in empty streets, sliding down hotel hallways, and finally haunting a posh Park Avenue apartment. By mirroring these disturbing situations and jittering, fragmented subjects through soundtrack, shots, and editing, Ditch Plains brings to mind the dance films of Maya Deren and Merce Cunningham, which document the human body in motion through fractured space and time while commenting on the process of filmmaking itself. Fahrenholz calls her films “performative documentaries,” a term that suggests hybrid forms and highlights the performative nature of everyday life. Describing her process as “observational,” Fahrenholz aims to be an “invisible conduit” ultimately disappearing into the subject matter after first engaging in mutual dialogue and collaboration.
Like the most penetrating horror films and video art of the 20th century it brings to mind, Ditch Plains raises questions crucial to the global crises of our time. How do you properly respond to disaster? How do you make sense of a world shaped by the dangers of surveillance, interrogation, and death? And how can you take charge of your life when actions themselves seem out of your control? “People don’t know how to act,” says the digitally manipulated voice of an unseen narrator. “Just lie down. Lie down and quit acting like you know.” But in the last scene, bodies reanimate, the skyline glows, and the moon still shines. Life begins again, even in the midst of devastation.
Ditch Plains is available to stream on Kadist.