Studies in Play - Harvard Ballet Company

Studies in Play - Harvard Ballet Company

The video and its accompanying dance are playing THIS WEEKEND IN CAMBRIDGE at the Harvard Ballet Company’s “Silhouettes” – go see them!!

About a month ago, friend and choreographer Owen David contacted me about doing an introduction to his dance piece, which was commissioned by the Harvard Ballet Company. His dance piece and the video premiere in a show THIS WEEKEND at Harvard, so buy tickets if you’re in the area!

So why is it called Studies in Play? Because we had a lot of fun making it! It was supposed to be a quick and light endeavor, but video projects rarely are. It was such a release to be behind a camera finding shots and playing with dancers, swinging around their bodies in interesting locations as they moved; I began to look forward to our after-work sessions even as they ate away at all my free time and then some. Owen and our third collaborator Patra Jongjitirat were loving the release and creative exercise as well (even if they were a bit flustered when I would hit record and say “okay now dance!” “Dance how?” Make it up..improv!”)

We began with a preproduction meeting, then walked around my area in Hell’s Kitchen to do a camera test, a few of whose shots ended up in the final piece. Next we went to my room and shot a bedroom dance, which was actually elaborately choreographed by Owen for the video. It was lit with a $8 worklight hung from my window to look like a streetlamp. We walked out onto my fire escape and filmed there, cand then did two separate video shoots with Owen and Patra – one in Prospect Heights and one on Roosevelt Island. In all we shot 3+ hours of footage.

Post production was a back-and-forth between the edit, the visuals, and sound. We completed a very rough 3-minute edit to start, then trimmed it down to something more approaching a final list. At the same time we began to select ambient sounds. There is a generator in there, a washing machine, overlays from multiple people at multiple parties, noise from the ocean in Hawaii, and very little of the sound we actually recorded. In some cases we were taking noises from the city, remixing them, and adding them to take the place of other noises. The breaths are all mine, the heartbeats stock sounds. I did color correction with Final Cut and the help of Magic Bullet Looks, which gave the film its grainy characteristic. Sound was edited on Soundtrack Pro, which gave us greater flexibility to work with pitch and reverberation.

Many of the films I make have  deep symbolism and multiple narratives interacting, down to the shot-by-shot level. To me it is not important that every bit of that is clear to the viewer, and it is certainly not expertly conveyed in all cases. But I believe that a coherent structure and substructures make for a coherent watching experience. If there is a coherent idea on my end, the viewer will be able to impose their own coherent idea; if there is not, it can get confusing and I would do that only for artistic effect.

I can tell you what was going on in our minds. While Owen’s accompanying dance is all-female, light, and sassy, the video attempts to be another take on femininity. We wanted to convey the experience of going out at night and having an encounter: the thrill of it, but also its overwhelmingness. The oppression of drinking, parties, the city, sex, and ultimately the question: can I handle this all? Is this too much? Is it too fast?

Below I’ve put my two favorite shots that didn’t make it into the final cut. We burned a solo cup on a pan, and if we were to have used it I would have blacked out the background better – and decided it was a bit too much. I also got a beautiful rack focus on these subway steps that just didn’t fit in. Watch the solo cup melting or the stairs rack focus. That’s part of filmmaking, though–killing your favorite elements if they don’t work.