Man has no nature, only history – these words of José Ortega-y-Gasset can fall heavily on the mind and senses of the viewer, as the first frames of MASS sweep in through the eyes, reaching the whole being of the viewer, and echoing long after the last sand strokes.

– MASS, a film by Fu LE and Tetrapode Dance Company

MASS is a 10-minute dance film by the French director Fu Le, with whom we had the pleasure of talking in the Translation on Air rubric. The screendance film features amateur dancers whose collective high and low tides in movement are choreographed together with the constantly moving camera and from one long, uninterrupted take dedicated to the mass they erupt into a sensory experience. The mass is an intense crowd, celebrating or protesting, and inside of it the individual stands out, is lost, or loses themselves. The art work captivates us with the imagery of the mass immersed in a sensual dance – as a precisely constructed exercise in togetherness with its own technical and emotional qualities, but at the same time it also provokes us to think in stories, placing the mass both in broad social contexts and interpreting it through intimate subjective explorations.

Forty amateur dancers embark on a screendance challenge together with their director Fu Le and cinematographer Adrien Gontier. Precisely because they are non-professionals, but still over-ambitious, the participants of MASS seem to be driven by sincere personal creative desires to collectively create a film that is beautiful, impactful, and sets different paths of reflection. We see a vast empty space in  gritty tones. Human figures move together, disperse, gather in formations, raise their bodies, catch up, laugh, run, freeze, turn their gaze, as if called by someone in the distance… The ‘body’ of the camera is also there – around and among human beings. It is also alive and chases, captures, and embraces without stopping its mechanical eye even for a second. The senses of the viewers are sharpened, the body is tense, the spirit is shaken, and the questions rush one after the other.

MASS is a real screendance experiment, because it was created with the thought of a constant symbiosis between the movements of the dancing bodies and the dancing camera. The crowd, as an elaborate image and character, and the technical cinematic tool, used to capture it as the main protagonist and “engine”, are equal in their choreographies. The precision and smoothness of coexistence between the artistic elements  depends on the undoubted discipline,  persistence, will for improving and the fight against external factors. As the film is a single take (there is no editing here), everyone involved works together, because they are not allowed to make too many mistakes. There are a limited number of possibilities for everything to turn out right, or rather only one possibility for a certain result. The concept of ‘we’ll fix it in post-production’ is invalid. MASS, as the center of its own exploration, is also an exercise in teamwork in the process of creation. All are united in the name of a common goal and a meaningful creative concept, here and now, with careful planning and dedication to preparation, because there is no other time or way.

One of the important characteristics of MASS is that it affects its viewer and this impact is accumulated by a number of factors. The art work is aesthetically pleasing – the music, the sounds, and the audio environment are in sync with the visual – аnd the visual is both known and unknown. We see the people, but we do not know their names, their occupations, where they come from, and what they long for. We find ourselves in an enclosed space, but we don’t know where it is. The narrative of the individual’s place in the crowd and the crowd’s mission in the world is clear, but there are no verbal messages. We are free to interpret without restrictions. We know we feel and recognize our own human experiences, but are we sure why? Can we rationally and strictly logically give arguments?

We can think about the crowd in many ways. It is cosmic, universal, sensual, wild, real, unreal, precisely ordered, predictable, unpredictable, surprising, disruptive, creative, positive, and scary. For me, however, it is something else – essential and very important – unlocking and calling for personal interpretations related to the individual life experiences. This is also the reason why this present text seeks the social dimensions of the mass, considering that such threads are discoverable, even though not imposed nor implied by the authors of the art work.

Here they are in my personal experience. In my school years, our literature teacher told us about the curious format of the book trailer. Excited by its potential, I decided to try to create a book trailer for the poem September by Geo Milev through a video, an interview, and a montage.

Today, watching MASS, I think about my own life and not about my personal belonging to a mass, nor my participation in a protest or collective celebration of something. I remember the book trailer in which my literature teacher and a classmate of mine shared different points of view on the concept of ‘crowd’ through the prism of this unique literary work of European modernism. This is how the idea of the mass evoked in me the impression of the bright erudite Geo Milev – unique as a person and as a creator, as behaviour and cultural interests, as energy to create in many artistic fields, an avant-garde in many ways. The line of memories and the labyrinth of the conscious-subconscious (awakened precisely by the work of Fu Le) somehow led me quite naturally to the poem September, where the crowd swirls time and space with its turbulent forces, its anger and its creative light. According to my classmate, the riot is potentially possible in every historical time, that it is timeless – without time – possible, real even tomorrow. And according to my teacher – and this is the most interesting thing that has stuck in my mind until now – the rebellion of the individual, of the personality, is romantic. While crowds can’t be romantic – that’s the aesthetic of the ugly.

In my book trailer for the poem September, with much enthusiasm, almost childish, I have interwoven footage from Pina Bausch’s interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring (another kind of artistic protest that shocked its contemporaries with its musical structure). The dance interpretation of Dance Theatre Wuppertal and the dancers moving on a mud stage for the duration of the performance, focusing on ritual, rite, sacrifice, and violence also point to the perspectives and reflections on the link between the mass and the individual. This link leaves a mark in cultural history, especially when it comes to movement pursuits – because of its influence on the individual creator and the viewer, and also on the artistic communities and audiences.

I am sharing my own rational and emotional references as arguments that MASS far exceeds the original intent of its creators. The message unfolds much more nuanced and achieves much more interpretation – such as width and depth, which I think is one of the great merits of this art work. And although in our conversation Fu Le was explicit – the social context was not sought and staked, still it can not be ignored in the “translation”, as the raising number of questions in the viewer’s mind can not be ignored:

Who bears the responsibility in the crowd? Who legitimises its existence? Who controls its movements? Who has the ability to allow or stop its violence? Is the actual abandonment of oneself in the name of collective achievement also violence? Is the crowd’s faith always and necessarily betrayed? Does it matter how big the mass is? Is it dangerous when it celebrates? How does its appearance depend on its constituent images? Is the crowd always attractive, offering a sense of belonging and not being alone? Can it change? Could it not be a delusion? Isn’t the path to destructive action so much easier? Is the crowd giving or robbing?

Masses of human beings are a permanent phenomenon that will not cease to exist and inspire the human imagination. Crowds excite and intrigue – regardless of whether one is in the crowd’s core or just a peripheral observer. In the crowd, one can find one’s ideal. The mass is a sensual whirlwind and deep emotion. It is always composed of individuals who carry their own uniqueness beneath the surface of the exterior of the collective mission or shared ideology. It is no coincidence that MASS begins with a human being. And it ends with the mass fleeing and disappearing towards the horizon, leaving the consciousness in the vastness of empty space – rapidly filling with new questions, doubts, and dreams.

Every crowd has its own time and life. And every time has its crowds. The individual is here to study and debate what the mass is capable of or what it is not capable of. And the camera lens is here to capture its movements. Through its skillfully used screendance instrumentation and a timeless philosophical theme, MASS stands as more than an impactful artistic work and is an intriguing opportunity to talk about the power of personal and shared human stories.

The article is translated by Miryana Mezeklieva.

Ana-Maria Sotirova has a degree in Film from the University of Reading and a Master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam. She is a collaborator at the Moving Body Festival in Varna with lead organisers Svetlozara Hristova and Iskra Ivanova.


Miryana Mezeklieva graduated in Cultural Studies at Sofia University Kliment Ohridski. Since 2008 until today she has been working as a translator of feature films and series for dubbing mainly for the channels of Nova Broadcasting Group.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to screendance. Every month we invite professional and amateur audiences, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between film and dance, to join our readings, conversations and discussions with active choreographers in the field from the country and abroad.

The project “Translation on Air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Culture Fund under the programs “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021.

Видеография и библиография:

Short film MASS

Online conversation with Fu L