Believe it or not, music does not exist in a vaccuum. Sometimes it goes out and partners with other art forms. And hey, y’know, the same thing can be said of me! Curioser and curioser. I have something of a ballet background; I say “something of a” rather than just “a” because I don’t want to imply I’m any sort of expert, but I will tell you that I was pretty good en pointe.
All of this is to wrap around to the fact that last week I had my first interview! Whee! Seeing how it was the opener I played it close to home. In fact I only hopped a few cubicles over, as the Strathmore building is home to many different arts groups. Among them is CityDance, a dance company if you can believe it. In their employ they have videographer Shannon Schwait, who was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss what she does for CityDance and how music ties into it. Full interview after the jump!
I’m sure you’re sick of answering this question, but just for the sake of clarity: what is it exactly that you do?
I’ll give you some background of myself. I used to be a dancer, and had just graduated from FL state with a masters in dance; I had studied ballet and modern dance. At school I had a professor who was into dance technology. He would design projections for his shows to create environments and had also learned concert documentation. He taught a class where we learned all this software.
In high school I was in TV production, so I’d had that interest in graphic earlier in life. It all came together: I could fuse my art and my passion.
Modern dance tends to stay on the edge of that, not wanting to fall into main stream. I felt commercial and pop dance had really taken advantage of that, getting out to all these people, so I wanted to see how I could bring all these techs into modern dance and reach a wider audience.
When I moved here I got connected to CityDance. Our artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson had always been interested in film and dance together. He had started a company called FilmWorks years before I arrived. FilmWorks, from my understanding, was then to create dance films, and he had invested in all the equipment and software. But he had lost his partner in that; he had moved back to France, so they were in a little bit of a transition period when I came.
Since being here… let me tell you about what we do. Within the company itself, my responsibilities are obvs filming our concerts and repertory. We recently had a dancer from the Paul Taylor Company come in and choreograph, so I documented that residency. And we have a blog site, so I make little video blogs to update people on what we’re doing at the studio so people can see behind the scenes.
We have an in studio educated department and we have an outright teaching department that teaches in schools across the DC area and we record that. So we’re basically recording everything that we do.
What artistic choices are you making? How much control do you have?
It depends on the project. With this last one for the residency, I had pretty much artistic freedom. I would film rehearsals, make all of the cuts, choose what quotes we wanted to pair with what footage, picking what music I wanted to overlay. I definitely had freedom to make decisions regarding the mood I wanted to make, and then I’d run it by the director for his approval.
I’m working on a promo right now for an upcoming show we have, and that one I was given the job to create a 15 second promo. So I picked the clips and submitted it to them and was told I was totally off in the mood they wanted to set! So that allowed us to have a conversation about what THEY were looking at and what mood they wanted to set, and I went back to ground zero and made a new one and that they approved. Once I know what overall tone we’re going for it makes my job easier.
Naturally music and dance have gone hand and hand… pretty much always. How do you utilize music to enhance your video?
Music for me is a HUGE part of the editing process. I prefer to immediately pick a score I want to work with as I’m editing. Doesn’t even matter if it’s going to make it into the final product. Being a dancer, I’m very musical, and I find it very inspiring if I can find a piece of music that connects with the tone of my video. And then that will lead me in a natural direction and the music will help the video unfold.
My first experience was when I was first learning to edit… I don’t know if it was… Aphex Twin, something really out there. And I realized that everything came out of the music: the timing, the breath, and that has led me through the years of always relying on music. But that said, I also love to use one track of music and then, as I’m nearing the end of the editing put in another track, switch it, put it with a completely piece and see how that changes it. And sometimes the second one is better.
Oh, yeah. One year at my old ballet school the repertory group had a dance, and in the morning for the schools’ matinee they did it to a song from the movie Tarzan; but then in the evening they did the exact same choreography to a piece by Dvorak and it was like a completely different dance.
Yeah! If you’re just relying on the music, sometimes it’s like… it becomes predictable. And when you add in something new, it takes on new life.
What do you have coming up?
CityDance has a performance March 13 and 14 at the Lansburg Theatre, in Chinatown. It’s called Catalyst.
Ooh. That’s deep.
Yeah, and we do feel it’s kind of a pinnacle point for the company. We have two works from legendary choreographer Paul Taylor, which we feel really sets a bar. One of the pieces is set to Debussy, and for another, the music is being performed by Grammy nominee Christylez Bacon.
There’s a sultry duet, I would say, that’s done en pointe, so it fuses ballet and modern technique. Then Last Look, the famous piece by PT, which is a group piece for the entire company, and it’s performed with gigantic mirrors on stage. And it’s an intense piece, reflecting inner struggle with, when we really look at ourselves, what do we see, and are we really happy with that? Are we happy with who we see in the mirror? And Images is a very pleasant piece, another group piece by Paul Taylor, very pleasant to watch. This concert is juxtaposing the creation of new, cutting edge work with more traditional, classical work by famous choreographers.
Where can we find out more?
I’d encourage everyone to visit citydanceensemble.net. They can view our performance schedule and also read the blog and see some of the videos.
Thank you very much for your time!
Thanks so much for doing this. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.