Many creative people have produced films using dance as the main or secondary subject matter. The past decade has brought such major studio productions as The Turning Point (Ross, 1977), Nijinsky (Ross, 1980), Saturday Night Fever (Badham, 1977), Flash Dance (Lyne, 1983), Staying Alive (Stallone, 1983), Breakin' I & II (Silberg 1984), and Dirty Dancing (Ardolino, 1987), and independent films like In a Rehearsal Room (Hahn, 1975), Dune Dance (Brown, 1981), and Space City (Brentano and Horn, 1980), as well as much of the rock-video genre. The directors and/or choreographers of these films have produced dances for the camera that often could not, or at least did not, exist except on the television or movie screen. Angles chosen to frame shots and the rhythm of editing used to determine pace were selected for the cinematic value they produced. They expressed either the creative impulses of the filmmaker, those of the choreographer interpreted by the filmmaker through an active collaboration, or (only rarely) those of the choreographer as filmmaker. In these cases the techniques unique to film and video have been used to create dance events for the screen.
But what of dance works that have been choreographed to be seen on the proscenium stage? It is, perhaps, even more challenging, if not as apparently creative, to try to preserve on film or tape the composition and pattern and inherent rhythm of such choreography; that is, to bring a faithful translation of the choreographer's vision to the audience in front of the screen. Dance film that strives to provide the same aesthetic result as that of the staged choreography is a demanding art form in its own right; it draws upon all our understanding of the principles of documentary film and of visual perception. What makes this such a difficult task? Why is it so hard to maintain the energy, the excitement, and the aesthetic values of the performance when presenting the content of the prescribed space and the specific time of the real world, on the screen? The reason may be that we do not yet fully understand the interactions that occur between that objectively limited space of the world and the subjectively defined space produced by the camera.