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Dance Performance Inspiration

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Paul Thomson
Dance Performance Inspiration
on Nov 10, 2012 at 9:50:24 pm

Hi All,

I have an opportunity to shoot a ballet performance in February. I'm very excited but must confess to being a bit of a ballet buffoon. Can anyone recommend any films which capture performance (ballet or otherwise) well?

Thanks for any pointers or inspiration - I have an appreciation of dance and loved the cinematography in Black Swan but would like to spread my wings (sorry) so any examples would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,


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Mark Suszko
Re: Dance Performance Inspiration
on Nov 13, 2012 at 3:27:31 pm

This was drummed into me by the headmistress of the dance school when I shot her recitals:

Dance is about the entire body moving thru space, to define the space. The dancer is "drawing" a 3D pattern in form and position. If you shoot tighter shots and tracking shots and isos, you are obscuring the performance at best, and ruining the overall effect at worst. Resist the urge for tight MTV cuts of singles and XCU's.

Kind of like if you shoot an aerial stunt routine at an airshow, and the entire act, you just keep the plane centered in your viewfinder frame in a very tight shot, you don't communicate the patterns the plan'e smoke trail leaves in the air. You've cut off all references to the "frame" that the pilot was working in, and ultimately this is visually unsatisfying after a few minutes of viewing.

Now, the Mistress would have preferred the entire night be one, locked-off wide shot. That's also a bit extreme. What you have to strive for, is a balance. How I do that is: I watch and shoot the dress rehearsals. I look for the moves that repeat a number of times, and that's where I cut to a tighter shot for a moment, or do a slow dissolve-thru. In that way I am trying to stay true to the overall pattern and use of space, but getting the bits of detail that would attract the eye of someone sitting in the front row. For the solos, I still shoot full-body, I don't go in for head-and-shoulders shots. It's about the footwork and the WHOLE body, you see. Those dancers work very hard to paint their picture in motion with the entire body, so show that entire body down to the toes.

I was very glad to have shot the dress rehearsals using camera positions unavailable for the real performance. One of the gals did her solo perfectly in dress, but got stage fright and completely blew it in the actual show. An easy insert edit made me a huge hero when the master program was viewed.

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Todd Terry
Re: Dance Performance Inspiration
on Nov 13, 2012 at 3:43:34 pm

[Mark Suszko] " Resist the urge for tight MTV cuts of singles and XCU's"

Yes... when the late great Gene Kelly was choreographing and directing his own and others' dance performances, his number one rule that he absolutely insisted on was that he and the other dancers always be photographed entirely head-to-toe, and with plenty of space around them. Closeups were absolutely verboten.

I'm sure that gave editors headaches... watch "Singing In the Rain" or his other movies of that ilk and you'll see lots of minor jump cuts during the dance numbers, because they were all wide shots and the editor had no closeups to cover the cuts... although I have to say most of them still matched pretty well. You certainly got an appreciation and feel for the dance, though.

Fred Astaire had the same rule... although he did break it a bit in his very later years when he was older and his footwork wasn't quite as precise as before. In those movies you'll see a few closeups now and then, but absolutely none in the movies that were made in his prime.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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