Beware: In a half-hour devoted to choreography by Molissa Fenley, tonight's episode of the PBS "Alive From Off-Center" series (10 p.m on Channel 50, 10:30 p.m. on Channel 28, 11 p.m. on Channel 15) offers a compendium of nearly all the mayhem that directing, camerawork and editing can inflict on the art of dance.
Photographic amputation of dancers' bodies, destruction of choreographic sequencing by use of disorienting camera movement or bizarre angles (including upside-down shots), constant (sometimes second-by-second) cutting between cameras, slow motion, superimposition, flare-in-the-lens: If it can destroy dancing, it's here.
Fenley's style puts a premium on stamina, but the extraordinary way she sustains full-out dance attacks counts for nothing on screen when there's no sense of either movement flow or real time--much less any recognition of her kinetic (rather than visual) approach.
It isn't clear from the credits if directors John Sanborn and Mary Perillo alternated or collaborated on the two-part show. No matter: The paw of the director(s) mauls the location segment as destructively as the studio sequence.
In "Geography," Fenley is in the photogenic wilds of New Mexico, with the camera twisting and swooping as if it's a member of her company. There are several fast-moving tracking shots that momentarily catch her exciting dance-drive, but otherwise this piece and "Metabolism" (shot at The Kitchen performance space in New York) offer only a mosaic of arbitrary, generalized effects.
Obviously dance for camera shouldn't be limited to transcriptions of stage events. The key question is whether a dance film or video program draws the viewer into the movement experience or, as here, adopts a diversionary and fundamentally anti-dance perspective. Fenley deserves better.