Filmmaking classes are the best opportunity to play lots of foosball. It’s funny– so many creative powerhouse studios provide game rooms to employees, because when you are involved in Film, you’re living there. In that, if you’re editing a film, you live in the editing room. Every day at break, whether I was tired, frustrated, or sleep-deprived and delusional, I would always look forward to foosball with my classmate Djake. Now that we are in the heat of our externships I haven’t played in what feels like years, but it’s really nice to have that foosball table as an outlet when some nights I feel like screaming at the monitor watching the same interview clip over and over until I never want to watch it again no matter how interesting I thought it was before. Sometimes the most strenuous, creative activity like filmmaking needs a ridiculous activity to match it.
After stressing more than I needed to deciding which organization to pick for my externship, I chose the Ormao Modern Dance Company in Colorado Springs. Check out their website here if you’re interested.
I didn’t really know what to expect; I have never danced, and some of my friends are dancers so I have a slight idea. My best idea of dance is Black Swan, which may be somewhat accurate for the cut-throat ballet world, but this is modern dance. It’s completely different. Also, my biggest fear is that somehow I impose Black Swan onto Ormao, making it a hyper-dramatic life and death environment. There is no way to make a good documentary if I impose a story where that story doesn’t exist, or worse, makes a really good, interesting story inaccurate. The biggest takeaway I had from our discussion preparing the class for our externships was “trust the process”. It’s so difficult. It’s not a screenplay, maybe in some ways it looks like one, ultimately, but I can’t force through coffee and creative willpower something good onto paper. I need to make sure it exists first, so I need to wait. With that in mind, I entered Ormao excited to get to know each dancer personally, hopeful that somehow I could find a dramatic, emotional story.
It’s a lot of observing, I don’t want to say fly on the wall but that sums up a lot of what I have been doing so far. Ormao just finished a performance called “Interplay” in the spring, hosted by CC, so now the Company dancers are in the offseason, meaning they aren’t meeting regularly. So far, I’ve met most of the dancers as they come into the office to teach various summer classes offered to the public. Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Hip-Hop, B-boy, it’s a lot of dance world terms for me to take in at once. It’s a bit strange too, the most regular class is a choreographer’s class for high-school aged girls, mostly girls about to enter high school, so it’s a bit awkward being the 6’3″ college male that I am asking this group of teenage girls as politely as I can to watch their rehearsal. I nonchalantly sit in the corner and observe as best I can, watching how they rehearse and learn to choreograph and direct each other. I just find it a bit comical being the “college guy” in the room, who they just met, and keeps randomly coming in to watch us rehearse, kind of like how I feel when my parents visit me in my college classes and sit next to me, watching intently as I feel like they expect me to say something ground-breaking at every opportunity. It’s a bit odd, but I try to be as fly on the wall as I can, despite knowing that just my being there has an influence on how the dancers act. It’s hard not to– and I don’t even have a camera yet. Thankfully, I have a couple weeks to make everyone around me as comfortable as possible, and I can avoid the “hi, my name is, can I film you?”. It’s hard to be genuine when lights are shining in your face, and some guy you don’t know begins asking strangely intimate questions about your life.
I don’t know what my documentary is going to be about. Maybe it will be about the Ormao director, maybe it will be about a Company dancer, maybe it will be about a choreographer in the workshop. That’s the fun (and the frustration) of it. Ultimately it is fun, because I know I am going to get something good. From what I have seen, the dancers in the Company have an uncanny intimacy to them. Today I realized I am on the verge of something good. After attending my first advanced Modern class, I learned that on Wednesdays and Saturdays there are regular Modern classes that I could watch. The class began with the dancers and instructor, including me, sitting in a circle to introduce ourselves again, especially to me, as I mentioned that I am part of the documentary class. I get to meet some more of the Company dancers, which is great, and I start to feel pretty comfortable as everyone gapes at the astonishingly blue, round eyes of the one of the dancer’s year-old daughter. I sit down excited to watch the warm-ups.
The teacher breaks everyone into pairs, and the first exercise involves staring at a part of your partner’s body. Yep. And it gets more comfortable. The warm-up progressed from walking across the room staring at a body part, to staring at each other’s mouth, to staring into each other’s eyes, to hugging and moving around the room as a follower, then a follower. The intimacy and improvisation, as well as comfort and trust, required to do these exercises genuinely, and without writing it off as a “haha we’re staring at each other middle school dance”, was incredible. Each pair moved very differently. Some moved forcefully, with pace, others moved slowly and methodically; yet, each group shared the same intensity for the exercise. I sat gaping as I watched each pair come into contact with each other, sliding, grazing, engaging each other’s bodies in such a unique way that public interaction doesn’t allow; I just cried. I didn’t really know what to do, or why I was crying, but it was just stunningly honest and beautiful. That emotion, that sense of intimacy I felt between the dancers is what I need to capture on film. That’s it, that discovery, that breaking of normal physical boundaries, that letting go to another person. I can’t imagine what its like to experience, and maybe sometime this week I can get a chance to do some of the exercises to know what I will need to convey to the audience. The dancers have asked me if I’m doing the classes, and so far I have been pretty nervous to say yes, but maybe that openness is just what I need to know more of in order to make the best documentary I can. The filmmaker’s nightmare is someone who is bad on camera, and that is certainly not the case with the Ormao dancers I have met– it’s a great feeling knowing I have that already.
Filmmaking is obsessive, and requires some obsessing. I need to gain as much knowledge of modern dance in a couple weeks as I can, so when we begin to pitch our movies to the class, and ultimately Rocky Mountain PBS, nobody says “oh, actually, that’s not how modern dance works”. So far I’ve learned that modern dance can be technical, improvised, people rolling on each other while keeping parts of their body in contact, moving around upside down in a box, jumping on a bed; it’s a wide-reaching discipline. I keep thinking about the movie The Artist is Present and the intimacy that film achieves through Abramovic’s Moma exhibit, where she stares into whatever person’s eyes sits across from her. It’s stunning. If I can even come close to that power in my film, I’ll be happy. With the level of intimacy I experienced today, I know something is definitely there.