Jo Andres, a visual artist whose experimental choreography performed at clubs in downtown Manhattan and evocative short films were imbued with fantastical and dreamlike imagery, died on Jan. 6 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 64.
Her husband, the actor Steve Buscemi, said the cause was encapsulating peritoneal sclerosis, which is characterized by intestinal blockage. She had also been treated for ovarian cancer.
When Ms. Andres arrived in New York from Ohio in the early 1980s, she began to develop choreography that immersed the audience in a more sensually enriching experience than simply watching dancers, like herself, performing onstage.
“We had all studied modern dance and dance composition,” Lucy Sexton, who attended Ohio University with Ms. Andres and performed with her, said in a telephone interview. “But when we came to New York, we were performing in nightclubs and punk-rock clubs, so her dances wedded two traditions: modern dance and performance art.”
To achieve her goal, Ms. Andres used a multimedia strategy. She used slides (of stick figures, bones, skulls and abstract shapes she had drawn or painted) and film (on which she scratched lines that swirled around the performers in them) and then projected the images onto her dancers as they moved to music and manipulated wispy tulle.
The images themselves seemed to dance as the performers moved the tulle around the stage, Ms. Sexton said. Layers of different-colored tulle made the images appear to reverberate in a holographic effect.
“Marvel followed marvel in ‘Dreaming Out Loud,’ ” the New York Times dance critic Jack Anderson wrote in 1990. “The production was dominated by films projected on three screens. Cinematic images appeared and vanished. Upside-down faces rippled on the screens like reflections in water, then were swallowed up by a void. Bodies seemed to float weightless in space.”
Ms. Andres said she had hoped to create a “mood thing” by mixing dance with film and slides.
“For me,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1988, “it is more interesting to change the flatness of film — to make it kind of 3-D and to make light dance — and to make the dancing look less dimensional, more compressed, like pictures, mysterious symbols, where the light bends and shifts, than to work with just the human form.”
Mary Jo Andres was born on May 21, 1954, in Wichita, Kan., and moved with her family to Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, when she was 2 years old. Her father, Martin, was a professor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State University; her mother, Rosemarie (Caiaccia) Andres, was a home economics teacher.
Growing up in what she called a “dark and scary” emotional environment, Ms. Andres, to her parents’ dismay, painted her bedroom in shades of yellow and orange that reminded her of the sun, she told Jung Journal, a quarterly publication about culture and psychology, in 2012. Her parents began introducing her as their “creative child,” she said.
“I was embarrassed because I knew that wasn’t really a good thing,” she said. “My parents didn’t quite know what to do with my creativity, but it’s interesting that they allowed it.”
She began dancing in high school — which did not impress her parents, who she said believed dance was an exhibitionistic art that would expose her to “weirdos” — and sneaked away for private lessons, which she paid for through a job at a pharmacy.
She graduated from Ohio University, in Athens, with a bachelor’s degree in dance, and later earned a master’s in film there.
By the early 1990s, Ms. Andres had largely stopped working as a choreographer, although she directed a dance number in “The Impostors,” a 1998 film directed and starring Stanley Tucci; instead she turned to making short films.
One of them, “Black Kites” (1996), adapted portions of a diary written by the visual artist Izeta Gradevic while she was hiding from snipers and mortars in the basement of an abandoned theater during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, early in the Bosnian war. Ms. Andres — who shot the film in her basement in Brooklyn with roles played by Mr. Buscemi and their son, Lucian — mixed surreal imagery with dramatic scenes to convey the terror and hope recorded by Ms. Gradevic.
“I describe my aesthetic style as ‘perceptual mischief,’ ” Ms. Andres said in an interview with the International Forum of New Cinema in 1997, when “Black Kites” was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Ms. Gradevic, now the creative director of the Sarajevo Film Festival, wrote in an email that Ms. Andres’s film illustrated the pain of her wartime experience “and the absurdity of our capacity to dream in the most unimaginable situations.”
Film and dance were not Ms. Andres’s only artistic endeavors: She also painted and created cyanotypes, using a 19th-century photographic process to produce eerie, nightmarish deep-blue images.
In addition to her husband and son, Ms. Andres is survived by her brothers, Tim, Pat and Mike, and a sister, Dayna Andres Harp.
Ms. Andres’s friendship with the jazz singer Diana Krall led her to direct a film of Ms. Krall performing “When the Curtain Comes Down,” with Mr. Buscemi as a carnival barker and song-and-dance man. It served as the overture to Ms. Krall’s performances of vaudeville songs during her “Glad Rag Doll” tour in 2012 and 2013.
“We had such an intuitive relationship with each other,” Ms. Krall said of Ms. Andres in a telephone interview. “I said, ‘Do the film, as you’d like,’ and when I saw it, I said, ‘This is exactly what I want.’ She understood Magritte, silent movies and Stan Laurel — there are elements of all of them in it. And her choreography of Steve, and his body language, are amazing. She captured all this in a piece that had empathy, humor and darkness.”