As a filmmaker I’ve become completely obsessed with dance. Sarah has shown me a world of meaning and emotion that lives completely separate from the spoken word and that really excites me. Cinema is at its most powerful when we draw meaning and emotion from what’s not said. Dialogue works best when it hides a subtext and there’s an incredible power on display when a great actor displays their innermost thoughts in their performance so we absolutely get it out, without ever being told.
It’s become a bit of a fascination for me, from making my own films to watching theatrical performances and picking apart others’ dance films. I’ve also become hugely interested in martial arts on camera because they too involve a huge amount of choreography and precision of camerawork. In fact many dance films I’ve seen would benefit hugely from drawing lessons from the work of the great masters like Jackie Chan.
The great dilemma for a filmmaker in shooting dance is in deciding what to actually frame. Dance necessarily involves the whole body on stage but that suddenly causes a filmmaker problems. One of our most powerful weapons is the closeup. But that necessarily means leaving most of the body out of shot.
One of the other great tools at our disposal is the moving camera. We can literally dance with the artist. When this is done well it is absolutely mesmerising. By all accounts the dancing sequences in Black Swan are a triumph, mainly due to the director, Darren Aronofsky, placing his camera in the centre of the action, as a participant and not as an observer. We could spend a whole day talking about the difference between objective and subjective cameras, but for me, the main reason for putting dance on camera is to make use of all the tools that film gives us that traditional stage work cannot. The subjective camera, becoming part of the piece is one of those tools, and incredibly powerful it is too.
So, if you’re planning to shoot dance, or any action and movement, it’s always worth putting a different kind of head on, don’t just film it, take your viewer into it. We want to be there, genuinely. Jackie knows best after all!