This animated film will give you a new appreciation for dance

Dancer and animator Iveta Karpathyova's "Phases of Dance" reveals what's going through a performer's mind, highlighting the motions audiences often overlook.

'Phases of Dance' reveals what's going through a dancer's mind, highlighting the motions audiences overlook

A frame from "Bachata Dance: Te Vas," a film by Iveta Karpathyova. (Courtesy of the artist)

This isn't the typical way to watch dance, and it's not the typical way of animating it either.

Iveta Karpathyova is the Toronto artist behind the two short films we'll be airing on this week's episode of CBC Arts: Exhbitionists, "Phases of Dance" (2017) and "Bachata Dance: Te Vas" (2016).

She's an animator, and she's also a dancer. That's actually her in "Phases of Dance" — swaying with dance partner Pavlo Farmakidis — and she brings her perspective on both art forms to the videos you're about to watch.

I asked myself: Through animation, what can you convey about dance?- Iveta Karpathyova, artist

Both films are examples of rotoscoping — animation that's created by hand-tracing live-action footage frame by frame. And in "Phases of Dance," Karpathyova actually includes a record of that particular daily grind.

There's a ticker in the bottom right corner that counts each of the film's 2,100 frames, and in the bottom left corner, she keeps tabs on the date, tracking two uninterrupted months of drawing. It's her way of revealing how she made the film, while the rotoscoped dance itself offers some P.O.V. on what it takes to perform the routine.

How? Karpathyova explains: "For a viewer, when you're watching a dance, you don't really know what specific areas to pay attention to. You take it in as a whole picture."

So in "Phases of Dance," watch for details like unexpected bursts of colour or disappearing and reappearing limbs — as if those elements would be hard to miss. Every hand-drawn flourish is there to put you into her dancing shoes.

Says Karpathyova, "I was trying to emphasize my understanding of the dance."

Artist Iveta Karpathyova (right) dances with Pavlo Farmakidis. She used video footage of their bachata routine to animate "Phases of Dance." (Courtesy of the artist)
Hand-drawn frames from Iveta Karpathyova's "Phases of Dance." (Courtesy of the artist)

While making the film, she asked herself: "What do you pay attention to as a dancer?"

As you watch the short, you'll be able to see her answer to that question.

When her partner leads her into a turn, their hands might flood with ink, drawing your attention to the technique. When the music hits an important beat, swinging hips might be highlighted with colour, emphasizing a synchronized swish.

In both films, the dancers do the bachata. It's a quick-stepping, hip-swaying dance that that came out of the Dominican Republic in the early '60s. If you've ever been dragged to a Latin dance night, it should look familiar. That's how Karpathyova discovered it about three years ago.

She instantly loved the music, the footwork — everything about it. "Since then, I just didn't stop," she says, and for a time, she was even teaching bachata in Toronto and performing it with a dance team.

It was around then that she was finishing her Masters in Design at OCAD University. A rotoscoping assignment offered her the opportunity to combine her two passions, dancing and animation.

"I asked myself: Through animation, what can you convey about dance?"

The earlier film, "Bachata Dance: Te Vas," was mostly a way for her to develop her skills. It's an experiment in different media (watercolour, ink, pencil) and technique. "Phases of Dance" is where she really works on bringing a dancer's perspective onto the screen.

To Karpathyova, both animation and dancing have something in common. "Both practices are about understanding motion and timing," she says, and on a personal level, they're both "rooted in awareness of my body, and the way I express myself through it, both physically and emotionally."

"I'm thinking you can get a different experience of the dance from watching it through the interpretation of an animator," she says. "I'm hoping [viewers] will take a different understanding of the dance."

Have a look.

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.