Maya Deren and Talley Beatty. A Study in Choreography for Camera. 1945. 16mm film (black and white, silent), 4 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase from the Estate of Maya Deren

Dancing in the Galleries with American Ballet Theatre’s Isabella Boylston

A principal ballerina responds to Maya Deren and Talley Beatty’s film A Study in Choreography for Camera.
MoMA December 30, 2019
Isabella Boylston | MoMA BBC | THE WAY I SEE IT
When you see dance on film and it is able to reveal something different about the dance that you wouldn’t get in a live performance—that’s when, to me, it is really effective and powerful.
Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York, is this week’s guest on The Way I See It, our radio collaboration with BBC. In this episode, Boylston looks at A Study in Choreography for Camera, a 1945 film by Maya Deren and Talley Beatty. To our delight, her response included grand jetés through our galleries. Beatty’s movements seem to prompt and react to Deren’s film camera; dancer and camera move in sync—fitting for Boylston, who is no stranger to the lens. Boylston shares her love of dance with her huge Instagram following—on grand stages, faraway beaches, city streets, living rooms, and in the many arts institutions that she frequents.

Find the complete radio program, hosted by art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke, on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Way I See It

“He has the perfect ballet body. Man, those legs, arms, and face—everything,” Boylston says of Beatty as he extends his long leg—a développé, she points out—leading the camera from forest to living room. And then, with a flick of the wrist, dancer and camera are at the sculpture terrace of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then, with a whirl, back in the forest. The film is full of whimsy and, as Boylston notes, highly surreal.

“This was revolutionary in the mid 1940s,” Sophie Cavoulacos, an assistant curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, explains, “to make this kind of work—a work that isn’t a straight document, a work that has movement but no sound, that is not rational or narrative in the way that its shots, sets, and spaces meld into one another.” The term “choreocinema,” she continues, was used by these artists to describe this new form of choreography—a pas de deux performed between dancer and filmmaker. Perhaps most radical, Boylston notes, is the film’s genesis despite the extreme obstacles facing a female filmmaker and an African American dancer in 1945.

This is one of many conversations about art in The Way I See It, a 30-episode radio series from MoMA and BBC offering fresh perspectives on artworks in our new galleries. Find the complete series on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts.

Isabella Boylston
Isabella Boylston