As an Artistic Director of digital, what are your thoughts on curating the digital season ?
There is always a lot to think about and consider in curating a season of work. This season in particular it has proved especially true for the digital platform. With theatres shut and our normal ways of getting work out they’re closed off to us it’s been a time to reflect and rethink about how we use the digital platform and the content we capture. In creating content we have been uniquely challenged with the ever changing environment , bubbles, social distancing, limited budgets and the risk of a project being stopped at very limited notice if someone where to test positive have all become harsh realities. In regards to the curation of the season.
A few of the key thoughts for me are, how is this project nourishing our Artists and audiences? What is its inclusivity and relevance? what can we learn form each experience? How and who can we collaborate with? Is this the project to take more risk’s with? Does it challenge and allow us to grow both as individuals and as an organisation? Does it represent the highest possible quality and hold true to our artistic vision & values. The creative sector is wide ranging and diverse i am open as a Director to working with all mediums of creativity, art and culture. The more variety we can inject into the company the more skilled and open minded we become as artists , audience and company. There have also been many positives to take away from this year one of those has been working internationally through the zoom model, economically viable with the option to cast the net globally for artists has been a rich and rewarding experience I hope this kind of cultural exchange will remain at the heart of the company as we open back out to some kind of normality .
What was the most challenging thing about curating this particular program?
Many of the creations for this season were with International artist’s, beaming into our studio’s through Zoom. Due to travel restrictions and covid it meant the content was created in those virtual rooms and then myself and our digital team had the responsibility of bringing their worlds to life on film., the guidance and feedback being totally virtual. It’s a huge responsibly to be in charge of capturing the essence of a creatives artistic vision and often this season we where dealing with multiple creatives and works all running in tandem. Digital was coming anyway but Covid has accelerated its growth and worth. The challenges have been many, be that casting and rehearsing in bubbles and same household groups or dealing with the ever changing parameters of how we are able to capture in a covid secure way and all the while remaining focused on the end product and the audience it will serve. It has meant that we have been able to offer creative and performance opportunities to the dancers at a time when there normal means of expression has been taken away, this has defiantly had a positive impact on the digital team and dancers and kept us all focused and goal driven and mentally and physical fit and able.
Why do you think it’s important to produce quality dance film ?
The landscape for the world and dance has really shifted during the pandemic, there is so much uncertainty and fear, we have no idea how this all turns out or if indeed this is the last pandemic we will see in our lifetimes.? So regardless I believe digital will become an important part of our identity. Its ability for organic global reach and collaboration alone, make it a compelling prospect, before taking into consideration it being a space where you can afford to take risk without fear of box office outcome. It’s also a place to mentor and nurture future talent and act as a feeder into main house work.
We have a duty to produce work of excellence no matter what area of the company it is coming from, that’s what are audience deserves and that we owe ourselves as living breathing artists. Digital Dance film captures a moment in time and puts it in a time capsule that will exist forever. It is also potentially the first time the viewer is exposed to the company, you never know who is watching and what that could lead to!
Let’s talk about your dance films. How many hours do you usually put in to create a digital film such as “ Have your Cake “ ?
That’s hard to answer because ideas for films bubble all the time. With each film I try to look for a new focus for the Digital team so we are using each capture opportunity to build and develop our skills as a producing house, as well as making sure the dancers are being pushed to explore the possibilities of both the digital arena and their artistic excellence. Once I knew the form of the content and the thread, the needs of the film fell into place and we were able to amplify the experience. We wanted the film to have a sense of humour but also nostalgia and we wanted to push our crew and start to develop our skills in site specific capture, including water scenes and the creative use of flour!
“ Have your Cake “ : How did this idea come to your mind at first ? And how did you choose the team you collaborated with ?
During a conversation in the summer when I was reminded of the Banana Bread phrase during lockdown, it just made me think! We produced that film under extreme restrictions, so our team was small and each member was multipurpose. We wanted to use it to develop our skills and keep learning but produce something light and enjoyable. I had created a stage show earlier in the year with a section inspired by the Banana bread phase and I liked it so much I knew I could experiment with it on film. We repurposed the stage choreography for our locations, which meant the dancers where already very comfortable and well rehearsed in the material, which allowed us to concentre on the filming on the day, as we had very little time in each location.
In this film, there’s kitchen/ pool/ bedroom, how did you find these places?
You search and network and haggle and hustle!
I am constantly, building a library of interesting locations etc for future projects.
Northern ballet is now using its in-house talent to create world class films. Why is it so important to use the people in house?
For one it can be an economic choice. On a company of Northern Ballets size it can’t function in any other way unless it wins specific grants. It’s a necessity for us to produce digital work for our Arts council targets and at the moment we do it with a skeleton crew. The company is on a very lean and economically efficient model. So in order for us to remain visible and world class it becomes imperative that we upscale and identify talent from within house. To have everyone that works for the company fully committed and accountable for the work we put out is essential and I believe in investing in people and giving them opportunity and responsibility to develop and stretch their creative capacity and talent. I also strongly believe that putting former/current dancers in as many positions across the organisation as possible can only be a positive, no more so than behind the camera where they understand better than most what it is they are capturing. I am a huge believer in creative thinking and building for the future, Northern has always been resilient and streamline and has been developing in house talent since the 1970’s.
What is the potential you see with the future of Northern Ballet’s Digital platform?
The potential is only limited by our imaginations but i feel like I am only getting started….. time and budget are always being considered but as tech develops further and prices become more affordable for consumers we are able to access more advance stuff to capture with and all this means we can film our ideas with top quality equipment. If you are creative you can keep pace with the best of them with just an iPhone and an idea.
How different is to choreograph for stage VS choreograph for dance film?
Onstage, you see the beginning, middle and end. On the screen, little glimpses need to tell the story
you can’t be precious about seeing the whole all of time. The most interesting to me is when the cameras are not static but are choreographed to work alongside the dancers movement, very sculptural in essence giving you moments and frames until the whole picture reveals itself. I also find it easier to deal with non linear Narratives and timelines on film as you can work in multiple dimension and still have the audience be able to follow your train of thought. Although there is no replacing the experience of live theatre and I would never want to but I am very excited to see how the physical and virtual co exist and move forward.
‘We need to interpret the movement of physical bodies in film as almost an abstract concept. The art of film has to be acknowledged as deeply involved with choreography in its essence’.
Illustration by Alessandra Bramante
Header Image by Emily Nuttall