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Insightful documentary on Dancer Margaret Beals World Premieres at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on June 10!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 06/09/2023

Insightful documentary on Dancer Margaret Beals World Premieres at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on June 10!

Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals by Adriana Davis and Margaret Beals. 
Join acclaimed dance innovator, Margaret Beals, in her exploration of the art of improvisation. In this short documentary, Ms. Beals demonstrates the power and authenticity of improvisation as performance and also as a tool of discovery for any creative endeavor. Throughout this film, audiences are offered glimpses of Ms. Beals’ extensive career in improvisational dance. One of the first solo dancers to perform whole concerts without steps, she started her early career in the free-wheeling atmosphere of the 1960's club and cabaret scene and continued her pioneering journey through five more decades. In this film, Ms. Beals draws from various artists to give fuller context to her thoughts on improvisation. Keith Jarrett, renowned jazz pianist, reveals insights into his own creative process. Meredith Monk, award-winning composer, singer and creator of music-theater-film works, gives an insightful introduction to this documentary as well. 2023; 25 min.

Here is my interview with Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals Director Adriana Davis:

Nigrin:  Your insightful short documentary film Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals  focuses on a legendary dancer and how she pioneered a new form of dance. Tell us what motivated you to make this film.

Davis:  Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals began in 2015 as a series of educational conversations to record Margaret Beals' ideas on the techniques of improvisation. The story arc of the rough cut edited by Adriana Davis broadened the concept to place Margaret's improv dance theories in relation to artists in other fields such as Jackson Pollock and Keith Jarrett. This created the foundation of our film. 

Nigrin:  There is some terrific archival footage that is part of your documentary. Tell us more about how you secured these moving images and how they came to be in your film.



 
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Davis:  Early in her 50-year career Margaret Beals found that recording her dance performances was not readily available or affordable for an individual artist. However, in the 1970s, after seeing herself in Peter Powell’s 16-millimeter films, Margaret realized she needed to find ways to archive all her work. At the same time, video recording equipment became more accessible, enabling her to create an extensive archive…a blessing to any filmmaker. Later during the post-production phase of Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals, we invested in researching and securing the rights to the material of other artists in varied disciplines utilizing improvisation.

Nigrin:  I understand this film has been in the making for quite a while. Tell us about the process.

Davis:  Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals began production in 2015 and was released in 2022. During that time, the concept of the film was reshaped and expanded to present improvisational techniques in dance as well as in other artistic disciplines. Due to the COVID pandemic, we used Zoom to capture interviews, including the one with Meredith Monk, and much of the editing process occurred with the filmmakers in separate locations, conversely creating a closer collaboration.

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?

Beals:  After a life of solo work, Margaret Beals was excited to collaborate on this film with her Co-Director/Editor Adriana Davis and her Associate Producer, Kathleen Drinane Davis. It has been a learning, growing, and memorable experience to bring “Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals” alive on the screen.

Davis: Adriana Davis, Co-Director/Editor of Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals, will always be grateful for the latitude Margaret Beals, the Co-Director/Executive Producer and the subject of the film, gave her in finding the film’s voice, flow and structure. Margaret’s trust in Adriana’s abilities is rare in filmmaking and the encouragement and teamwork, with Associate Producer Kathleen Drinane Davis, made creating and communicating the film’s message, to preserve improvisation for future artists, a joyful and memorable experience. 

Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation will be playing on Saturday, June 10, 2023– Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 5PM as part of a double bill with the documentary on photographer Linda Troeller entitled Healing Waters by Derek Johnson and Ali Scattergood! For more info and to buy tickets go hereAdriana Davis and Margaret Beals will be present to do a Q+A after the in-person screening! 



 
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Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.

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