Movement Fraught With Meaning

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

The past few days, I keep coming back to the pleasant surprise of Google’s logo on Wednesday, an animated dance in celebration of  the modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.

A still from Google's animated logo

Widely considered the Picasso of the dance world, Graham’s innovative work in the 1920s and 30s focused on the independent spirit and the meaning of movement itself. The doodle features several iconic poses from her various pieces, which The Martha Graham Center of Dance breaks down.

Martha Graham, photographed by Barbara Morgan

From dancing out lamentation, partying, springtime, and women on the frontier, you can see how varied and particular each movement is. She said, “All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.”

How important those individual moments of movement become for the animator! Done by motionographer Ryan Woodward, the animation is modeled after a dancer performing the same phrase of movement.

Watching the crafting of this doodle, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite animations, a dance set to the song, “World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies. I love how the form and movement of a real dance take on a surreal-like aspect when the animation is added. The woman becomes imagined, dreamed for most of the song. Her sudden sprouting of wings and his overlarge and tangled limbs beautifully illustrate the complicated emotions of relationships, matching the movement.

When I went looking for this film again, I saw it was done by none other than Woodward himself. Though he has worked on several big name projects (think Spiderman and Where the Wild Things Are), he found himself wanting to do something simple, hand-drawn, with more freedom for interpretation. The behind-the-scenes video below is long, but interesting to watch the collaboration of choreographer, dancer, and animator, as well as a bit about the art of animation.

I like his choice to refrain from cinematic tricks and techniques to tell the story, wanting the emotion to be genuine rather than triggered, and allowing mistakes to be part of the piece itself, as it is part of the humanness of relationships. Woodward’s animation adds to and defines the meaning of the dancer’s movement rather than simply imitating it. A nod to Graham and Woodward.

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