Seeing SLOW DOWN TIME (SDT) for the first time, is a stunning and stark experience. It begins in silence, camera panning over L.A.’s deserted palm lined streets. Gradually moving in toward a gated rot iron façade surrounded by sheltering palm fronds. A tattooed young man in jeans and shirt (Gregory Barnett) steps from his doorway onto the stoop and passes the swirled gates. His empty gaze allows the words heard in his voice-over to intrigue us.
“People are scared…I am not. I cover my face and wash my hands but if it chooses me anyhow… I had a good run.” He bends back, arm raised and reaching!
This honest beginning moves the film’s layered work through a poetic sojourn of nine lives: all experiences so personal, so individual, through our generation’s plague.
We continue to move on from the L.A. streets to a grey shuttered home surrounded by a white picket fence, a lithe elegant woman (Sara Jane Gould) stands silent to meet us. Her gaze looking beyond the fence, her words unexpected.
“This pandemic’s been a double dose of isolation, my husband died unexpectedly in late January”…the camera moves ever so slowly as if taking in her entire being …”and just two weeks later the city went into lockdown.”
This effortlessly crafted film hits the wisdom and emotion of its subjects and seems to haunt the viewer. It acts as a lyrical epilogue that perfectly bridges from Jeff Slayton’s six part series, Effects of the Pandemic on Dance Artists in Los Angeles (LA Dance Chronicle).
Slow Down Time is the brainchild of Producer/Performer, Katie Malia; Director/Editor Joel Kazuo Knoernschild; and Director of Photography/Colorist, Randy Wedick, who document the amalgam of experiences and movements of their artist-friends and families. They capture with such grace and generosity the personal truths and transitions in this historic time. While Slayton seizes the realistic truths of this scourge, Slow Down Time creates the poetry that overlays the hard facts. It coaxes the words off the page and brings the internal and unexplainable to light.
When asked why and how this gem was developed. Katie (Producer) without hesitation answered, “[It] developed from a pressure cooker need to create and connect. Feeling disconnected, trapped, and caged in our confined home spaces at the onset of quarantine, our tight quaranteam, Joel, Randy [and I], utilized the tools we had to create human connection and capture the disconnect while social distancing. Human connection was a necessity.”
One can see this captured in the steel blue light of a hazy underground parking lot. A young man in a Covid mask and Hoodie, (Nicholas “Slick” Stewart) twists on high tops, arms snaking, undulating, his own words admit his confusion and fear, and missing those loved ones he is prevented from seeing. While Nadine Olmo, becomes a vessel for prayer. Her movement becomes a ritual, “I am blessing Mother Earth with love and strength. I am breathing for the world and dancing for peace.”
“When I look back at Slow Down Time, I think of how much stress and uncertainty we all faced during the early days of lockdown in Los Angeles, Joel (Director) recalls. Everyone was feeling a deep sense of loneliness, and loss. … what bonded us together, was creative expression, friendship and community, capturing an unprecedented time. I think the thing I learned … was how each dancer positively affected me by giving so much of themselves while things in their lives were being taken away. I saw so much strength, which gave me strength, and for that I will be forever grateful.”
The families, the challenge, struggle, and discovery, taking intentional steps to treat self with kindness, as Jamila Glass explained, languorously climbing and dancing over and past husband and baby on the front porch in the late afternoon. And leggy Jasmine Albuquerque speaks of moving from a kind of “cocoon of shock,” to “dancing all day, laughing and crying all day…writing, laughing, crying! Living outside of space and time… the earth needs to breath”… Movement was her therapy since she was born and now she is “finding it to be so enjoyable in this time of stillness.” She, descends to the ground in front of her wooden entrance, lifting her baby overhead, her husband awaiting the family at the doorway.
Like a symphony, it becomes an overlay of feelings, images, sounds and words. Powerful, meditative, and playful, the eloquent phrases of the dance artists, who hardly ever use words, tell much. Their movements express the personal depth of this experience…sans angst. And underneath is the constant tension of Julianna Barwick’s compositions of synth, sounds and voice. “I wanted the music to support the dancers, not be the star…but be reflective of the unique mood of the beginning of the pandemic.”
Randy made clear that “the entire point of this exercise was to give voice to those whose voice had been taken from them. I went for static observational filmmaking and let the movement of the dancers dictate the camera moves….We attempted to put people inside of frames to denote a sense of captivity that the lockdown was imposing.”
In that frame an intimate view into Katie’s bedroom window exposes her claustrophobic sequestering. Her long hair sweeping side to side, hiding her face, only makes her words more revealing.
“The days are heavy and the nights are sleepless. I’ve been resisting dance my one deep well and connection to levitation. I’ve felt small and confined, trapped and restless in the unknown and massive loose ends.”
The astute Gregory Barnett uttered, “My brain and my heart have never been more at odds with no signs of reconciliation. I had already watched a bunch of we’re in our bedrooms and we just gotta keep dancing!! type videos…and they were driving me more insane than the lockdown. I wanted whatever showed up to be honest, so I didn’t dance at all from the moment Katie asked me to participate…. When the crew arrived and asked what I wanted to dance to I played doom metal because it felt like it was the most appropriate score for a nearly catatonic body in front of a pretty house. If Honest, I’ve been expecting this. Since last year when everyone marched for the planet. We have taken too long. The earth was bound to take back her reins.”
“Capturing this moment was like bottling a time capsule. We knew this was our only window of opportunity to polaroid everyone’s feelings,” says Katie.
A spirited dark haired young women, with a brilliant fuchsia paneled shirt, and bright blue pants is centered under an arbor of fuchsia bougainvillea and bright thick green leaves overhang the clearing where a view of an entrance invites us to come closer. Reshma Gajjar moves freely. Her words unmasks her keen awareness that her perspective is different, different than most. “I am not alone and live with my husband. I know many people…are missing or concerned about their parents … my mother lives with me….. All these details significantly affect my quarantine experience. Though I do struggle with time, and how fast it moves. It really felt like the universe was listening to my plea to slow down time, slow down time… And when this happened I felt like it was …such a gift because I was able to stop. It is my notion that we are all giving each other permission to breathe” Slow Down Time ended up being the title of our piece. It ended up feeling very prescient,” very prophetic.
Slow Down Time is a gift of few words but, in truth, says so much. These artists have shared their generosity and wisdom and leaves us with hope and light in an uncertain future.
To view Slow Down Time, click HERE.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.