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Maya Deren

Born in Kiev in 1917 as Eleanora Derenkowsky, Maya Deren and her family departed Ukraine in 1922 amidst the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the onset of the Russian Civil War. They settled in Syracuse, New York, where Maya, in her relatively brief life, emerged as a pioneering figure in experimental filmmaking, a prolific writer and photographer, and an advocate of personal and poetic cinema. 

Ritual in Transfigured Time is Deren’s third film, produced in 1946. The film was partly inspired by the parties Deren attended and hosted in New York. She envisioned capturing the dynamic social interactions as if through a contemporary lens, observing the nuances of human behaviour. It led her to make a film depicting an ongoing party scene, with repeated embraces and confrontations, with close-ups of exaggerated laughter and people subtly observing newcomers. In a silent film, devoid of conversation, for Deren, one could choreograph gestures, facial expressions, and subtle signs of social anxiety.  

The work holds an important place in experimental cinema, for its editing techniques and its exploration of motion, time, and metamorphosis. This film presents a sequence of dance sequences featuring dancer Rita Christiani, alongside Deren herself and poet Anais Nin, navigating various settings and scenarios, ranging from an intimate ritual unwinding wool from a loom to a formal high society gathering, eventually transitioning into a surreal underwater realm. The film also incorporates an element of the external world affecting the internal experience, represented by a strange wind that surrounds and captivates Rita as she becomes engrossed in the ritual. Distinguished by its choreography and surreal sequences, the film, which Deren, along with her other work, later described as ‘documentaries of the interior’, evokes a feeling of transcendence and enigma. The film beckons the viewers to ponder the fluid boundaries between reality and the subconscious.  

Ritual in Transfigured Time is not a story, but an exploration of time. Deren used surreal elements in her film but resisted being labelled as a surrealist. She saw surrealism as ‘elitist, cryptic, and isolating’, lacking a deeper purpose beyond perplexing or unsettling the audience. Deren sought cinematic coherence and integrity, eschewing any form of gratuitousness. Each image had to be thoughtfully chosen and serve a purpose. Ritual in Transfigured Time, is a metaphysical journey, a rite of passage, using the movement and rhythms of dance to create a hypnotic and meditative experience, which later led Deren to her exploration of ritualistic African, Caribbean, and Haitian dances. For the film, Deren was awarded the first Guggenheim fellowship ever awarded for creative filmmaking, and she used the funding to travel to Haiti where she investigated Haitian ritual dance. 




Ritual in Transfigured Time

Carlotta Bailly-Borg, Gaëlle Choisne, Maya Deren, Darius Dolatyari-Dolatdoust, Onyeka Igwe, (LA)HORDE, Ula Sickle, Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca