The few extant examples of collaborations between film and dance from the early twentieth century come from the French avant-garde and include films made in Paris by Loie Fuller, considered a forerunner of modern dance and who was also a pioneer in the use of lighting design. French experimental filmmakers considered ballet to be a partner of animation, as in Fernand Léger's Ballet mécanique (1924). The Dadaist work for Les Ballets Suedois, Relâche (1924), included René Clair's film Entr'acte in the live performance. Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes commissioned Ode (1928), with choreography by Leonide Massine, designs by Pavel Tchelitchev, and projections by Pierre Charbonneau. It is likely that Soviet Constructivist filmmakers also worked with dance, but if so no such work has been found. Among several instances of photographers, filmmakers, and dancers working together, Mura Dehn and Roger Pryor Dodge filmed concerts of jazz dance in the late 1930s. Gjon Mili, best known as a LIFE magazine still photographer, filmed concerts in the early 1940s, releasing Jammin' the Blues in 1944.
Maya Deren (1917–1961) and Alexander Hammid (1907–2004) are generally considered the first major proponents of "cinedance," or dance as film. Deren's first film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), shows her walking on a new surface with each step. Her A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), a four-minute film of Talley Beatty dancing, contains one effect still cited as influential for generations of filmmakers: Deren edited Beatty's side leap, which had been filmed in a variety of backgrounds, so that it seemed to stretch from exterior to interior settings. Later, Shirley Clarke (1919–1997) worked with modern dancers, cross-cutting between their movements and evocative nature images. Contemporary figures include Doris Chase and Amy Greenfield, best known for her Antigone/Rites of Passion (1991).
The experimental generation of modern dance, led by the choreographer Merce Cunningham (b. 1919) and the composer John Cage (1912–1992), combined film and choreography in performance. Pioneering work in early video was done by Nam June Paik (1932–2006). The choreographers Trisha Brown, Carolee Schneeman, and Joan Jonas combined the genres, and Yvonne Rainer worked separately in each. Many events combined live task dances in environments that included video or film projection, such as Elaine Summers's Walking Dance for Any Number (1965). The Nine Evenings of Theater and Engineering, organized by RCA engineer Billy Kluver, were collaborations among choreographers, composers, and filmmakers with technology to enable live creation and viewing of performance on film. Cunningham himself made scores of films and videos beginning in the 1950s, collaborating with Paik, Stan VanDerBeek, Elliot Caplan, and Charles Atlas. The abstract expressionist painter Ed Emshwiller (1926–1990) made stop-motion films with Alwin Nikolais (1910–1993), a painter as well as a choreographer who manipulated shapes and color. Their Fusion (1967) was both a dance work performed in front of film and a separate film.
Ballet as film has never developed in the United States but is a respected medium in Canada and Europe. The integration of film into ballet was popularly known only in the late 1960s, when it was also used by experimental opera directors such as Frank Carsaro. The best-known American work is Robert Joffrey's psychedelic Astarte , which was featured on the cover of Newsweek on 15 March 1968. The Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren (1914–1987) has made a number of important cinedance films, including Pas de deux (1968), Ballet Adagio (1972), and Narcissus (1983).
The postmodern generation has worked in both film and video but views the latter as a more flexible medium. Performances often use projections or screens as part of the environment for dance, as in Trisha Brown's Set and Reset (1983), with films and screens by Robert Rauschenberg. The choreographer Bill T. Jones's controversial Still/Here (1994) combined dancers with personal narratives of disease viewed on movable monitors. The composer/choreographer Meredith Monk (b. 1942) has included film in her cantatas, such as Quarry , and has made films that stand on their own, most prominently Book of Days (1988) and several documentaries about her choreography. Eiko & Koma, Kai Takei, and other butoh-influenced choreographers use film to emphasize the slow pace of movement in their work. At the other extreme, Elizabeth Streb's collaborations with Michael Schwartz made visual sense of her impossibly fast dynamics. Many of the experiments were commissioned by and shown on Alive from Off Center (PBS, 1985–1994).