Project helps see Durham with new eyes

May. 20, 2014 @ 03:03 PM

In the pursuit of art, Durham native Anjanée Bell gained a new appreciation of her hometown. The dancer/choreographer set out on foot with filmmaker Rodrigo Dorfman to explore areas of downtown Durham that she had never seen up close. 

Audience members will see those images and Bell’s choreography in the premiere of her work-in-progress,  “Birth of Existence Project -- Bridge of Light.” The performance takes place at 8 p.m. Thursday at Reynolds Industries Theater.

The new work also includes a reprise of the duet, “Deux,” created by Gaspard Louis and performed by Louis and Bell.

This collaboration between Dorfman and Bell came about as a result of a chance meeting when Bell came to see screenings of Dorfman’s films at Carrack Modern Art, a non-commercial art space in downtown Durham.

“We started talking and immediately found a commonality -- a certain sensitivity towards creating outside of the norm; art as a path toward self-realization; a deep connection between art and your life; and having a sense of humor,” Dorfman said in a telephone interview.

The filmmaker said he had never worked with a choreographer but had always wanted to. “I’ve always wanted to push the limits of what my digital art can do,’ Dorfman said. For him, such a collaboration offered an opportunity to “re-access, recreate and become reborn aesthetically and creatively,” he said.

For Bell, the collaboration fit into the mission of her company, Bellan Contemporary Dance Theatre: to contribute to the continued growth of dance as an art form.

She and Dorfman were looking for something specific as they walked around the Bull City. “We were looking for walls and the way light hit walls, brick and decaying brick,” the filmmaker said.

They stopped at the green wall, painted with a fish mural, between Parrish and Main streets. “It’s one of my favorite walls in Durham. The color is vibrant. I like the movement of the fish,” Bell said.

The alleyway behind Alley Twenty Six, a downtown bar, caught Bell’s attention for the first time -- especially the tree growing in the alley. “I really like trees. They hold a lot of history and a lot of stories,” Bell said.

These and other places they visited helped the choreographer see Durham with new eyes. She hopes her new work, in general, will encourage others to see Durham and other surroundings in a different light. “It’s about helping people to understand how we can constantly give birth to ourselves every day by shifting our perspectives on things,” Bell said.

Dorfman filmed Bell’s company dancing at these downtown locations for the video he created for Bell’s 40-minute production. When asked what the audience would see, he replied, “You will see ghosts and angels and the Apocalypse, lovers and fire. It’s not a classical narrative. It’s themes, tone, colors. In a way, it’s about mood, which, I believe, is what I’m good at.”

His video for this dance also includes favorite footage he could not fit into other documentaries he has made. These images include birds in Turkey and clouds in Gainsville, Georgia, that he found interesting while waiting for an interviewer.

Dorfman’s documentary, “One Night in Kernersville,” won the Jury Award for Best Short at the 2011 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham. He also served as associate producer on another well-received documentary, the 2007 “A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, Dorfman, 47, has lived in Durham since 1985.  He is the son of Ariel Dorfman, a writer, who teaches at Duke University.

Bell, the daughter of Durham Mayor Bill Bell, grew up staging weekly fashion shows and dance performances with her younger sister, Kristen, in the basement of their Durham home. At age 9, she began taking dance classes. Later, she was a student one summer at the American Dance Festival because she wanted to study with Donald McKayle and Carmen de Lavallade, she said. For the student showings, McKayle selected her to perform the solo in his “Angelitos Negros,” she added.  She later taught dance at Hillside High School.

Fast forward to 2006, when she founded her multi-generational company followed by a company school. Her current eight-member troupe’s ages range from Bell, 37, to Chloe Rae Saylor-McGraft, 4. The company also includes family members: Bell’s sister, Kristen Bell Hughes as a main dancer and, as apprentices, Bell’s daughter, Heléna Bell, 6, and her niece Asian Hughes, 7.

Bell’s 8-month-old daughter, Jianélise, may eventually join the troupe. “She’s walking and she already dances,” Bell said.