Woman in gold with many strings of beads, jewelry and headwear appears in the centre, twisting dramatically on the surface of a lake, with a spray of water all around her shooting towards the camera


Dance+: Love, Death & Robots

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The figure of the siren in the rotoscoped dance scene in Jibaro, from Netflix series Love, Death & Robots
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Dance and rotoscope animation combine to stunning effect in the award-winning Netflix series

The video clips embedded and linked to below contain violent scenes

Once in a while, mainstream film will flirt with the world of contemporary dance by introducing a character or a non-sequitur performance designed to enchant or stupefy with its strange beauty. ‘Jibaro’, the last episode of the third season of Tim Miller’s animated Netflix series Love, Death & Robots, commits fully to this flirtation by embracing dance as its primary storytelling device in a tale of lust and betrayal between a knight and a siren.

The death dance scene of ‘Jibaro’, from the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots

The choreography in the episode is rendered in gorgeous rotoscoped animation (check this video for a fascinating potted history of this innovative technique, and its origins in dance). The animators trace over recorded performances of the dancers (referred to as ‘performance capture’ as opposed to ‘motion capture’ by the team) frame by frame to produce a realistic result. The rotoscoping approach allowed director Alberto Mielgo to stay as close as possible to the original movement of Los Angeles-based choreographer Sara Silkin. The articulate, sinuous movement of the animated characters conveys the rigorous research by the dancers and Silkin, who was invited by Mielgo to work together on the concept even before the script for the episode was written.

The episode follows the seductive but deadly attraction between the deaf knight Jibaro and The Golden Woman, a mystical siren lurking under an unassuming lake, encrusted in the spoils of war of the soldiers she has driven to death. When Jibaro and an army of knights make their way to the lake, the mythical creature pulls them in deep in the water with her screams, drowning all but the deaf Jibaro. The narrative follows his point of view, tuning out the sound when we are experiencing the scenes from Jibaro’s perspective.

This bold and inclusive approach positions dance as the prized, primary storytelling medium in the wordless narrative of the episode, which won two prizes at the 2022 Creative Arts Emmy Awards – for short-form animation and for individual achievement in animation.

The film’s appeal comes from the inventive and vibrant choreography by Silkin, which combines sharp, vertigo-inducing turns and acrobatic flips with the vulnerable demeanour of The Golden Woman. Her movement, performed by dancer Megan Goldstein, oscillates between sensual body waves, desperate shrieks and a dazzling sequence where she seduces the knight by snaking and slinking dangerously close to him and his sword. Her movement as she playfully licks his sword and bites the knight’s lip is informed by Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement language, remixed with the natural ebb and flow of the river, where the siren lives, and elements of pole dance.

The choreography in the episode becomes apparent the first time the knights are possessed by the siren’s destructive song, and suddenly launch into a virtuosic, almost balletic flurry of movement that becomes a dance to their death. The way the choreography is incorporated reveals a creative, forward-thinking spirit in Silkin. She has developed emotional subtleties and nuanced gestures into a movement style that often reads as grand and virtuosic for its own sake, and the response to the episode has been wonderful to watch.

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More and more filmmakers are turning to a hybrid, dance-adjacent language that is more about embodiment and subtly guided performance than pure choreography

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Silkin’s work is front-and-centre in a larger recent trend for dance and film to turn to movement direction in its different modes (choreography, performance coaching, and most recently intimacy coordination) as an instrument that can refine and elevate the physical work that goes into an emotional film performance. More and more filmmakers are turning to a hybrid, dance-adjacent language that is more about embodiment and subtly guided performance than pure choreography to visually establish who their characters are, and how they embody the world around them.

As The Golden Woman lifts her hands softly, with a forlorn look on her face, and lets out a deep guttural scream and the knights are drawn towards her, plunging towards one of the most beautiful deaths one could imagine, there is no need for any other words. 

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