Dance filmmaker designed his career 

By Barbara Black

The film opens with an aboriginal man dancing through the forest. His head is down, arms and shoulders up, feet softly stamping as he weaves and bobs through the undergrowth, sunlit through a canopy of leaves. Wait a minute. That’s not traditional aboriginal dance. Now he’s in a business suit, writhing on his back on a concrete street. What is this?

Philip Szporer has worked on a series of dance-themed films. Magnifying glass

Philip Szporer has worked on a series of dance-themed films.

It’s Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider, a documentary by Philip Szporer and Marlene Millar. The film was shown to great acclaim on Bravo on Jan. 21, and will be shown there again. Szporer is an alumnus and teacher at Concordia who has developed a rewarding filmmaking career.

Byron Chief-Moon was a rich subject, because he represents several dichotomies. He’s from a reserve near Lethbridge, but he’s a sophisticated citizen of Vancouver. He uses native dance forms in his work, but in striking, original ways.

He’s also what his people call two-spirited, gifted with both male and female sensibilities. He left home at 15 on the advice of his grandmother, who thought opinion on the reserve would be too harsh for a gay young man. In the film, he goes back, with some trepidation, for a family reunion, and takes part in a renaming ceremony (photo below). Several of Chief-Moon’s relatives talk about Byron on camera. They’re disarmingly frank and obviously proud of him.

Above is a still from <em>Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider</em>. Magnifying glass

Above is a still from Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider.

Szporer and Millar have been making films about dance for seven years as the production company Mouvement Perpétuel. Many are only three to five minutes long, but they’re memorable.

Take The Hunt. Dancer Peter Trosztmer gives a performance of riveting intensity — without moving his feet. Using only his face, arms and the muscles of his torso, Trosztmer enacts a violent episode, although whether he is the victim or the perpetrator or both is open to interpretation.

The Hunt has been seen all over the world,” Szporer said with evident satisfaction. “It was shown in Spain only last week. The first time you see it, I agree, it’s shocking. But when you see it again and again, you really enter into the piece, and chances are you’ll put your own story to it.”

Fostering learning is Szporer’s passion, but he came to it by a circuitous route. He got a BA in English, and then landed a job writing material for Hans Selye, the Montreal doctor who invented the stress concept. Selye, fluently trilingual and highly cultivated, was a strong influence on the young semi-professional dancer.

After several years with Selye, Szporer returned to Concordia for a graduate diploma in communication studies, learning film and TV production, a period he describes as “heaven.”

Then he blossomed into the quintessential freelancer. He started writing dance journalism, which he has never stopped doing, notably for Hour. He worked for CBC radio, and by the time he was ready to move on, he knew so much about journalism and the arts that he was able to go around the world giving lectures about Canadian culture.

Working on a project with the National Film Board gave him the confidence to be a liaison between the dancer and the camera. He and his friend Millar, whom he had met when they danced together, got a fellowship to attend a dance/media studies program at the University of California, Los Angeles, and haven’t looked back.

In 2004 they made a video series with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts about emerging choreographers called Moments in Motion/Au fil du mouvement.

They’re still mining the riches they found there, with short films such as The Hunt (choreographed by Sharon Moore), Butte (Byron Chief-Moon, dancing his own choreography in a stunning Alberta landscape), a soft place to fall (a couple in a kitchen, fighting and making up, by Thea Patterson) and The Greater the Weight, a video they just completed, which takes place in a boxing ring and was choreographed and danced by Dana Michel.

Last fall, Szporer taught an FFAR course — a course on the arts for students who are not in a Fine Arts program. He called it Dancing for the Screen, and loved doing it. This year he’s back teaching dance history , and his classroom is still diverse; one-third of the students are from outside the faculty.

All the films will be broadcast in rotation on Bravo. Butte and a soft place to fall will be shown Feb. 17 as part of the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois.


Concordia University