Tuesday, June 23, 2009

glitter and be gay!

"Glitter and be gay" is one of the songs from Candide, an operetta I have always loved. No title could be more fitting for Wednesday's shoot. Besides being an apt description of the day's shooting sequence, it struck a note close to home. Moze and I have a dear childhood friend whom we lost a few years ago. His birthday was Wednesday. It was a perfect day therefore, to be doing a wonderful glittering sequence in which Nureyev is seen figuratively encountering the great artists and celebrities of his time. John would have loved it! As Nico/Nureyev partnered and pirouetted the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Twiggy, Martha Graham, Andy Warhol and the ever-present Fonteyn, I could just see John grinning wherever he is. In this picture at right, Nureyev twirls Fonteyn, while Twiggy (Kristy Kennedy) , Warhol (Derek Sangster) and Jackie Kennedy (Lindsay Sutton) look on.

As one of the largest and most complex sequences, featuring a dozen ensemble members, the celebrities dance sequence breaks out into many small vignette phrases in which Nureyev is matched with one of the notables he knew during the time of his early fame. As steadicam operator, Jason (see Tuesday's post) had to weave in and among them, again, like the jimmyjib, looking for all the world like a dancer himself.

I was sorry to have missed the morning session that included some more of the trio work between Bruhn (Etienne Lavigne), Nureyev and Fonteyn. I have seen so little of Greta on this shoot, a sad result of my own scheduling challenges. It was a family day on set, however, as my own mother, and Moze's mother and other family friends sat in on the action. My mother later wrote me that the trio work in the morning had been "lovely - lovely dancing, lovely people". A sad casualty of my living an hour and a half away!

Luckily, the afternoon session I did attend proved to be equally absorbing. And speaking of Greta, I caught a bit of the interview she did onset with ETalk Daily, who had visited during rehearsal and were now back to see how the shoot was going. Greta is a wonderfully articulate spokesperson for this film - I wished I was writing down what she said! She captured the spirit of it perfectly.

During the time between set changes (to allow once again for the in-the-round experience) I had a chance to talk more closely with some of the technical people surrounding me. One of these was Ramona Diaconescu, who is doing Continuity for the film. Shyly, she confessed to me that she had never worked on a dance film before. However, now she is intrigued - and says she would probably go to see a dance concernt now whereas before she might not have. The continuity person keeps track of how each take went, which ones contained problems (something on camera that shouldn't be for instance), and which takes were in fact keepers. Like me, she was constantly running around taking pictures - though hers were at much closer range. I am hoping to get some of her shots to put up here and on the Facebook page.

It was also lovely to have some conversation with designer Astrid Janson. Astrid has just returned from walking the famous pilgrimage route El Camino in Spain. By coincidence, visiting the set that day was a friend of Moze who is also planning to make the same trip sometime in the near future. Before they chatted, Astrid told me some of her own incredible stories of having worked at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 90s, just after Nureyev (who had been its last Artistic Director) had died. The impact on the company was still being felt even then, and even then the stories about him were long and legendary. Astrid (assisted by Sarah Armstrong) has done some gorgeous work on this project, allowing for the evocation of worlds geographically as far apart as Paris and New York!

Every day on the call sheet, as I survey the list of people on set, "99" appears in every slot - the code for Matjash Mrozewski, Nureyev's indefatiguable choreographer. Mat has had to create dance that is both narrative and expressive, bursting with life and colour, and quietly intimate. He has a gift for bringing out the small gesture or flourish that represents a character well. In today's sequence, as the various glitterati swirled and twirled around Nureyev, each appeared to have his or her own signature move, whether it was the overhead whirling dervish Warhol (with a camera) or the deep modern moves of Martha Graham. In the middle of it all, Nureyev and Fonteyn shared a seemingly coy snap of fingers followed by an embrace and lift that was both playful and romantic at the same time. As a brief piece of business in a parade of characters, it catches the eye. Thanks to Matjash for such memorable work!

By Wednesday evening, the shoot involving the dancers will have come to an end and there remains only one more day of "interview" sequences which will help to anchor and frame the dance narrative aspect of the movie. I felt sad, knowing I would not be able to attend on Wednesday, looking around and already saying goodbye to them in my mind. As I was taking stock of the group, I noticed that Nico's beautiful fiance, Wynn had slid on to the set and taken a seat in the back to watch. I was reminded of a moment earlier in the day when, strolling to the craft room in the dark of the set, I passed a shadow that turned out to be Nico, taking a well-earned break, lying on a pile of dancers' mats. Completely unobserved. Far from the constant spotlight that Nureyev found himself in, being a young celebrity these days is perhaps more of a quiet thing. I hope so.

Monday, June 22, 2009

half way there! end of day 3

Day 3 is done and Nureyev is on schedule, gliding, or is that chaine-turning?, towards its Thursday finish. All is going great, says producer Peter Gentile when I ask him and that sense of confidence is present in almost everyone, despite being aware of the long road to go. I continue to be amazed by the fluidity with which Moze moves from one thing to another without any pause. He is equally comfortable consulting about the set design, conferring with the cinematographer or having a quick conversation (pictured here) with the audio man, Brian Hanish, who also bailed me out with batteries when my own rechargeables died. Thanks, Brian! Moments later, I was able to catch Moze with producer, Peter Gentile and Production Co-Ordinator, Mikey Lalonde before all three of them were pulled in opposite directions. It is hard to convey that sense of constant activity in a blog but trust me it is there!

Over lunch, Moze and the designers made an adjustment to the rear projection, by widening and taking out the framing blacks to allow colour bars in at the side. The adjustments for camera included changes in lighting. The resulting look not only expanded the vision and scope of the space, but allowed an opportunity for playing with colour fields of light within single dances. This is the kind of creativity that can happen on set when all are open to exploration. It is a tribute also to the flexibile versatility of Astrid Janson's set, assisted by Sarah Armstrong. As the panels rolled into place for the sequence later on in the park, it seemed to take no time at all to create a brand new place and space. These are critical talents to bring to a film set, where time is always a precious commodity.

A special pleasure for me today was finding a former student from Toronto Film School days: steadicam operator Jason Vieira. A graduate of nearly five years, it was exciting to see him in the critical position of shooting a challenging in-the-round sequence in which Nureyev and some of his young lovers intertwine and interconnect in a park. Jason's rig is almost as big as he is and two assistants follow him, careful not to be found on camera. And speaking of that, I nearly was, when I found myself in an area of the "round" during a rehearsal take. Luckily it was a rehearsal and not the real thing! Looking forward to seeing more of Jason's work tomorrow.

That dawn park scene among Nureyev and his lovers is set against a gorgeous image created by director of photography, Dylan MacLeod. Taken originally for a separate project, Dylan showed the picture to Moze as a suggested similar look to what Moze might be looking for. Moze loved the image so much he asked to take it on. The intimate round space provides a perfect playground to explore the sensual side of Nureyev's life: it is just small enough for the web-like intricacies of relationships to be evident, and just large enough for the sense of freedom that is evoked for Nureyev in these encounters. Mat Mrozewski's beautiful choreography rounds out one of the most stunning sequences I've seen so far. In this picture at right, ensemble member Etienne Lavigne rehearses some of the dance with Nico.

And speaking of Nico, the pictures on this blog don't do justice to his presence and charisma in the title role. Today, I was impressed by his acting within the dancing, embodying some of Nureyev's well-known flourishes, and also conveying deep emotion in the complexly-nuanced park scene. Here, he stands between takes with Moze. As someone else who seems easygoing and relaxed with almost anyone, he and Moze are well-matched!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

shooting begins!

At long last, Nureyev is in front of the cameras, and as of this writing, the company is at the end of day 2 of 6 days. Five of the days are occurring now and will finish on Wednesday. A sixth day will be shot at a later time, when all of the "documentary" interview footage will be shot in a church sanctuary.

It is always very exciting for me the first day I am on set of one of Moze's movies. It is very thrilling to see his hard work come to life, through all the incredible hard work of others. And it always seems like a very natural place for him to be. My few hours there fell at the end of the day with the shooting of a sequence from the early life of Nureyev, being guided by his teacher, Pushkin. This was a new sequence for me: I had not seen it in rehearsal so it was interesting to see it evolve before me. It is one of the more narrative sequences, in which young Rudik's talent is observed and developed lovingly by his mentor, while his parents looks on with differing responses.

Pursuant to Moze's vision for this work, the set is a simple dance space with a rear view projection acting as the only backdrop. (This picture is shot from behind the projection screen and dance space. You can see the projector at right of the frame.) These projections are sometimes images that evoke place: in the sequence I observed for instance, the unmistakeable, gorgeous, gold domes of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg serve as a backdrop for a narrative profile of the young dancer's life while training with the Kirov ballet.

I keep seeing people who crewed on Roxana, Moze's last film. In this regard it was a pleasure to meet up again with Mary and Madeleine who are doing make-up and hair, respectively, on Nureyev. While I was there, focus was on Nico's hair - and how to best represent the famed Russian dancer's 'do'. In the picture above, Moze, Madeleine and others confer. At right, Madeleine goes back to work on it.

Although the budget has been trim on this project, costs have been sunk into a few key pieces of equipment that will end up making all the difference to the quality of expression in the film. One is the enormous hanging balloon light (and I will have to find out the real name of it!) that is suspended from the ceiling over the set. Its diffusion creates a very lyrical and expressive space that is both warm and theatrical while also uniquely cinematic in its capacity to bring out faces especially on camera. Another significant contributor is the jimmyjib crane that dips and swivels around the action almost like a dancer itself. In the picture at top, the rear projection is visible on the monitor of the jimmyjib crane operator. In person, it resembled a small aircraft of some kind! Quite impressive. In the picture here, Moze chats with producer, Peter Gentile during a moment between takes.

During a break, I too got a chance to chat briefly with Peter, who was pleased with how things were going. At that particular moment, the company was running ahead of schedule, an almost unheard of thing, especially for a first day. After conversing with Assistant Director Derek Rappaport and Dylan Macleod, who is the D.O.P, a decision was made to try to pick up some of the smaller pieces from the enormous list of shots put on today (Sunday)'s schedule. As I left for the day, Moze was seated in front of the two monitors, waiting to work on close-ups of Tyler and others. The day was nearly done and it had been a good one. More tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

getting closer!

Life rushes forward and Nureyev is almost ready to begin shooting! I caught up with rehearsals again late last week and saw right away how much had been accomplished in a short time. When I walked in the studio, the room was filled with dancers in rehearsal gear, milling and sitting on the floor. Costume and set assistant designer Sarah Armstrong came and went among them with arms full of costume pieces, working with the performers where she could.

It was a pleasure to watch young Tyler Robinson, who plays Rudik, the young Nureyev, for the first time. A National Ballet School student, Tyler has an emotively expressive face and a lovely form already evolving. In the sequence I observed, he and his mother Farida, played by Sarah Robichaud, playfully engaged a beautiful shawl before sitting down to watch the grown-up dancers of the Kirov Ballet (shown at top). Meanwhile, behind scenes, Tyler's real-life mother, Susan Garvie (pictured here with Tyler) looked on with pride.

The section which Tyler and the others were rehearsing was an example of the kind of poetic narrative sequences Moze is experimenting with in this film. In the past, the dances have often marked an emotional 'aria' within the dramatic action of his movies. Here, however, the drama of the narrative and the emotion of the dance are weaving themselves together in single dances. Thus, while the young Tyler/Rudik watches the older dancers work, he can also be transformed magically during the number (via pirouettes) into the older Nureyev/Nico. (In this photo, however, two corps members are pictured, as well as choreographer Matjash Mrozewski).

I was sad to miss the full run-through this past Sunday of all the dances as they currently stand but Moze tells me it went very well. Family and friends had been encouraged to attend and see the work-in-progress. Hope to have shots and/or video of that as the week continues. Next post will be from the set! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

rehearsals continue!

Wow! Long time since my last post. The company was off a week and then back last week and this week for more rehearsals. I got there on Friday (and will return this Thursday). My visit coincided with a lot going on. E-Talk Daily was making a visit to the set and I shot this pic of Moze shooting the scene being observed by the E-Talk cameraman. I wonder if someone behind me was taking a picture of me taking a picture of Moze taking a picture of....

The camera crew arrived not long after I got there and a break was called to allow for interviews. Nico is amazingly easygoing and comfortable in almost any situation it seems. There is nothing of the star or diva in him, just a hard worker and a nice guy. As they were waiting, I overheard E-Talk interviewer Sharon Stokes remark to someone how graceful Nico looked. On camera, she asked Greta Hodgkinson if she had learned anything from working with him so far and Nico was quick to say that he was learning from her. A gracious man!

I am amazed by how hard everyone is working to make things stretch. Production Co-Ordinator Mikey Lalonde (whose picture didn't get in last time, so here it is now) was, as usual, wearing five hats at once as he continued to organize production details, track the rehearsal progress, shoot rehearsal video and deal with a hundred other details. Mikey has energy equal to the dancers and I sometimes think in his lightfooted running around, that he is going to spring into a sudden leap or tour jete!

Throughout the day, everyone in the room struggled valiantly with the noise coming from the hiphop rehearsal that was happening in the adjacent studio. The pounding rhythm was a far cry from the sensitive Prokofiev piano score that was serving as a rehearsal track. I was impressed with how everyone coped with it, though at the end of the day some discussion occurred as to whether rehearsal might move to a new location. In the end, they have stayed where they are and are hoping for the best.

Although rehearsals began early that day, my day began with Greta and Nico rehearsing a duet. Despite their differing traditions, they have a natural sympatico and a growing stage chemistry. I have been really impressed by how much Matjash Mrozewski's choreography serves the muscularity in both Nureyev and Nico's gifts, while retaining the balletic sensibility. While Greta is just always beautiful. Her (seemingly) effortless work and humour are a wonderful gift to the process. Even if this pose of her "relaxing" in a break with Matjash would agonize my body to even attempt!

In the afternoon, after the E-Talk interviews, focus moved to the trio of Nico and the two Russian "Authority Figures" who represent those trying to prevent Nureyev from defecting. I was very moved again by this dance. Matjash has a real talent for combining the emotional sensibilities of a scene while also allowing strong character moves that help to tell story. There are wonderful beats in this trio in which the 'bureaucrats' slowly try their best to subdue and retain a defiant Nureyev. It also allows a chance for us to see Nico's acting ability which is emerging strongly as we go. A talented guy! This is the great excitement of rehearsal, when details of story and emotional line start to lift into life. Lots more to come!