Taja Will was masked in aluminum foil to film a video at Minnehaha Falls. (Photo by Blake Nellis)

By Caroline Palmer

Earlier this year a Canadian study conducted by Microsoft Corp. revealed that the average human attention span is just eight seconds. Dancer/choreographer Blake Nellis is bucking the research by making dance films that last an epic sixty seconds. His creations used to be three-minutes long but people told him they didn’t have time to watch. So he adjusted.

Nellis explained his artistic goals while introducing the premiere of his ten “Mad Minute Films” Wednesday evening to a packed gallery at Homewood Studios in North Minneapolis. He wants people to stop scrolling with their thumbs long enough to watch dance improvisation in a variety of settings, from the Northrup King building to a rolling river. Nearly 40 dancers helped Nellis pull together the project funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. Visit blakenellis.org to check out his work.

According to the program note, Nellis wants to make “Dance masterpieces that take a minute to review and hours to digest.” The short format suits movement well – the imagery and physicality pass by in a dream-like state. As a film director, Nellis can apply his own take to the dancers’ unique movement, showcasing their individuality, while visualizing what would happen if they didn’t have to obey the laws of space and time.

Standouts within the collection are “Dancing on the Internet” featuring Duncan Schultz of TU Dance morphing his lanky body into insectile shapes and “Wanderings and the Quest” with Zenon member Leslie O’Neill performing an electric duet with a sliding warehouse door. “The Right Amount of Chaos” is perhaps the most beautiful minute of all, with dancers sliding through a shadowy and sandy industrial environment.

Nellis purposely edited the films so they would have the feel of a music video and many do deliver on this promise, particularly “Focus and Meaningful Gesture” which has Taja Will and Aaron Brando masking their faces with aluminum foil while exploring a rocky alcove. The beauty of bringing dance to film is the ability to shift perspectives in a way that the human eye can’t accomplish on its own.

Speaking of perspectives, Nellis is also a photographer and his exhibition “Skin.Rock.Bone” will be at Homewood through Jan. 12. The photos place nude models in juxtaposition with nature – rocky crevices, streams, snow, fallen leaves. Often the people are presented as abstractions – we see the muscular structures of their bodies but rarely their faces or heads. Sometimes the models blend in completely with the environment, as if they were meant to sun on rocks like a lizard or curl up amongst boulders.

Nellis possesses an innate ability to shape the interplay of the human body within an environment. His combined skill set of dance, photography and filmmaking knowledge gives him a special sort of insight. Each of his artistic endeavors showcases his ability to marry the visceral and organic in an unforced manner.