Τhey Dance With Their Heads by Thomas Corriveau

Τhey Dance with Their Heads by Thomas Corriveau

Canadian animation filmmaker and visual artist Thomas Corriveau knows how to make realistic-looking moving works while staying close to a very pictorial (and also performative) element in his work. While his very recent animation work 'Marie.Eduardo.Sophie' was shown at the 2023 Annecy Festival, he keeps making both animation works (such as the 2016 La bêtise - Folly) and working (from 2001 to 2022) as an associate professor at the School of Visual and Media Arts, at the Université du Québec à Montréal -also exhibiting at the same time a series of public artwork in Quebec.

He now premieres his animation short 'They Dance With Their Heads' at Zippy Frames. "The film was developed from a series of workshops I had organized in Montréal in 2016", he tells Zippy Frames. " I invited a few dancers to improvise in front of the camera, asking them to focus on the movement of their heads, suggesting to consider it as a sort a balloon floating in space, with the rest of their body following the movement".

But the film won't start with the dance itself, but with the main character with a severed head on the island. The camera movement leads to that character ("the choreographer"). The title was taken from an earlier and longer version of the choreographer’s monologue (which was subsequently cut from the film), which was addressing the dancers to ‘dance with their heads’.

"In the opening sequence, the choreographer's head stands perfectly still but these are not still shots", Corriveau explains. "It took a lot of care and patience to paint all the frames of this sequence! When the camera reaches him, the dead choreographer suddenly comes back to life, as if our presence made it possible for him to be re-animated". He has no qualms about saying this was the most difficult challenge in the film.

Then there is the dance sequence, but still, here not everything came together easily. From the previous video recordings, Corriveau produced a 3-minute loop (now shown as an installation in gallery spaces). And it took some time before the whole narrative idea emerged (the eagle, the choreographer, and the dancers).

"The sequence with the dancers is like a film in the film", he elaborates. "It is mainly done in drawing while the rest of the film is in animated painting". This would count as one step further from his 'Foley' film ("They Dance With Their Heads' has more complexity in the treatment of light, shade and color").

 I wanted the energy of the colored lines to fully participate in the emergence of a strong and sensitive bodily presence for the dancers.

Watch 'Τhey Dance With Their Heads':

The practics of the choreography had to be addressed as well. Marie Mougeolle (also one of the film dancers) acted as a co-choreographer ("she expanded the potentialities of the performers"), and the role of the choreographer was played by Marc Béland (actor and dancer). Corriveau remembers him as doing "a wonderful and inspired performance using solely his facial features", and he expresses wonder at what his dancers did ("the beauty of their movement left me speechless").

This is not to say that performance was the end of the film. Corriveau worked from the video images, reframing them to fit the island landscape. Images were subsequently painted frame-by-frame (two years of work). "I needed each frame to fully stand as an autonomous painting". The relationship between painting and the subject of the gaze is not lost in his work: "The duration of the act of painting is somewhat in direct opposition to the ephemeral presence of each image on the screen. A painting is a still image on a wall, but a good painting can induce a sense of duration, as the spectator’s gaze reactivates the movement of the brush, the duration of the making of the painting. My experiments in animation are directly connected to this idea of taking time to absorb the effects of a painting".

Animated films will definitely need a budget to make. University funding (but in an indirect way, via the funding of a research group focused on images in movement) also helped bring personnel from the student pool; also an NFB post-production completion grant (Filmmaker Assistance Program) helped the film get made, still under a very modest budget and with a lot of hours spent on the project.

The choreographer's deep love for artistic activities correlates with Corriveau's own appreciation of dance -an element that he continues in his more recent film 'Marie. Eduardo. Sophie'; film was screened at the Annecy Festival 2023, and it is an hommage to Marie Mougeolle, Eduardo Ruiz Vergara, and his sister Sophie Corriveau (all of whom are performers of contemporary dance).

Corriveau needs to think in strong images. Borrowing from the 19th-century Romantic tradition in paint ('a boat lost at sea'), he imagined the choreographer as a sort of lost soul in the middle of an ocean. He still has high hopes and a strong drive for artistic expression even though he is at the mercy of some external force. But at the same time, he adds: "The isolated island can be read as a studio space, in which the artist needs spend time in a certain solitude to fully develop a significant creative process". This trade-off between solitude and creativity and artistry is a given for most independent directors -Corriveau seems to be no exception.

He is now working on a new film in animated painting. "The story is based on our paradoxical relationship with nature and wildlife, between fascination and total fear". The film should be ready in 2025, and let's dance to it.

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Film Review (Vassilis Kroustallis):
The improbability of dancing with your head becomes a reality in this calculated, animated dance elegy by Thomas Corriveau. Dreams that need to be cut off (like a head on a deserted island rock) get a second life -like a choreographer does- in the immersive sea moments of other dancers themselves. Combining the fluidity of human movement with the piecemeal addition of painterly background spots, the end results present a hybrid non-reality space; a space where movement is possible, but at the same time, this movement is regulated and constrained. The bird now becomes the author and the controller of the story itself, which needs to be told, before finally removing the choreographer from view. 'They Dance With Their Heads' plays with the space between the fictional and the very real, and it is all more enchanting for that.

'They Dance With Their Heads' ('Ils dansent avec leurs têtes'), 2D animation, 2021 (8'27'', Canada)
Screenplay, direction, editing: Thomas Corriveau | Actor: Marc Béland | The dancers: Audrée Juteau, Brice Noeser, Marie Mougeolle, Catherine Tardif, Liane Thériault, Antoine Turmine, Eduardo Ruiz Vergara | Direction of dancers: Thomas Corriveau & Marie Mougeolle | Drawing, painting: Thomas Corriveau, assisted by Hédy Gobaa & Leila Zelli | Sound design: Olivier Calvert | Musical conception: Guido del Fabbro | Additional music: “Dans ma tête” (“In My Head”), composed and performed by Philippe Brach (courtesy of La maison fauve) | Support from Fonds de recherche du Québec Société et culture, The National Film Board of Canada’s Filmmaker Assistance Program, Grupmuv, Hexagram-UQAM

About Thomas Corriveau:
Thomas Corriveau made his first films in the 1980s and pursued a career as a visual artist, working in the fields of drawing, painting, printmaking, and animation. His works are part of various private and public collections and he has exhibited regularly in Canada and abroad. For more than ten years, he has been fully involved as an independent animation filmmaker.

Sophie in the forest (work-in-progress), animation, approx. 15 m | Wanderings in Bagheria, animation, 1 m 15 s, 2023 | Marie. Eduardo. Sophie, animation, 3 m 15 s, 2022 | They Dance With Their Heads, animation, 8 m 27 s, 2021 | Folly, animation, 6 m 44 s, 2016 | Since The Silence, animation, 9 m 48 s, 2016 | The Shadowing, animation loop, 1 m, 1999 | Kidnapped, animation 16mm color, 8 m 12 s, 1988 | Madame de Créhaux, animation 16mm color, 2 m 30 s, 1981

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