DER Documentary

Rhythms of Earth


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by Alan Lomax and Forrestine Paulay, DVD produced by John Bishop
color, 156 min + extras, 1974-2008




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Beginning in the late 1950s, Alan Lomax and his associates undertook a monumental study of the relationship between style in song and dance cross-culturally. It began with Cantometrics which developed a common language description for the many variables in performance style in the diverse cultures of the world and measured how those variables clustered geographically and in relation to means of subsistence and aspects of social organization. Choreometrics continued this investigation into dance and movement.

At a primal level, Dance & Human History is a whirlwind trip through the enormous variety of dance, music, costume and public presentation of culture around the world. More profoundly it represents decades of work to find an appropriate descriptive language for dance and movement at a cross cultural level, to perceive the patterns that differentiate cultures, and to relate them to basic elements of culture. Additional video on the DVD includes Alan Lomax speaking about the goals and motivations of the project, Forrestine Paulay discussing the meaning of the work to her as a dancer, and anthropologist/biostatistician Michael Flory discussing the pioneering statistics and computer models used in the research.

Choreometrics has special meaning for a generation of ethnographic and documentary filmmakers who contributed their work to this global sample because it is one of a few, and certainly the most ambitious, efforts to discover meaning in footage beyond the story a filmmaker constructs. As Alan wrote with Irmgard Bartenieff, and Forrestine Paulay in Dance Style and Culture: “We regard the vast, endlessly provocative, prejudice-laden, existing sea of documentary footage as the richest and most unequivocal storehouse of information about humanity. We do not agonize over its limitations or those of the persons who shot or edited it. We come to it with an observational approach like that used by the ordinary person in everyday life, which enables him to differentiate constantly between different classes of visual experience and to behave appropriately in relation to these varieties of experience.”

When initially released, these programs were only available as 16mm film prints, and not available at all for the last ten years. This DVD brings together the best telecine transfers of the four films with a cluster of supplementary videos and texts to contextualize the films. The DVD contains the following:

  • Dance & Human History (1974) 40 min - This film examines two important parameters in the Choreometric study, the dominant trace form of the movement and single/multiple articulation of the torso, and relates them to geography and type of society.
  • Palm Play (1977) 27 min - This film examines the use of the palm in dance cross culturally.
  • Step Style (1977) 30 min - Examines the use of the foot in dance cross culturally.
  • The Longest Trail (1984) 59 min - This film uses Choreometric data as evidence that the Americas were populated by Siberian hunters.
  • • Alan Lomax in conversation with Robert Gardner from Screening Room (1975) 34 min
  • • Forrestine Paulay interview (2006) 17 min
  • • Michael Del Rio (Global Jukebox programmer) in conversation with anthropologist and biostatistician Michael Flory (2006) 22 min
  • • Michael Flory interview (2008) 16 min
  • Global Jukebox demonstration (1993) 10 min

This disc also contains 177 pages of written material as PDF files that can be accessed with MY COMPUTER (PC) or FINDER (Mac) and opened and printed with Adobe Acrobat Reader:

Related Links
Alan Lomax Archive
Global Jukebox Project
The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies
Screening Room with Alan Lomax



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