Dance Film Made to Shock You
Rachel Levitt chats with choreographer Avery Dupuis and director Jordan McEwen on their new dance film HER I SELF.
Do you ever look at somebody else and say something along these lines? “God I wish I had her hair. I wish I had her legs.”
What if the answer was “what if you could?” You just had to go and grab it.
In the new dance film, HER I SELF, choreographer Avery Dupuis delves into the scary world of eating disorders and “how women treat other women based on how we want to look or how they look differently than us.”
We sat down with Avery and director Jordan McEwen to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on the film, which is released Nov 12 at Rio Webfest.
What is the film about?
Avery – The piece is an interpretation of a journey through an eating disorder and how that affects the person going through it, but also how it affects the people around you and how you view women especially.
Jordan – To me it was really about self-reflection and self-image, and I think we took that fairly literally. Going back to the beginning, it really started from looking at yourself and wishing that you were somebody, but then that person looking at themself and wishing they were you, and that back and forth ‘grass is always greener’ kind of thing.
What inspired it?
Avery – A lot of it was inspired by my journey going through really severe anorexia and bulimia, and going through counselling and realizing that my eating disorder was not necessarily a part of me. It was something that I needed to completely separate from myself and almost give a separate identity to so that I could differentiate my thoughts from my own and that of the eating disorder. So, a lot of the piece is experimenting with that idea of almost fully becoming something else, fully becoming the eating disorder that is, taking over and leaving the host on autopilot.
How did you bring Avery’s concept to life through film?
Jordan – A big part of it for me was really studying the dance that she created. And then from that, going off of which angles would be best to capture which movements. And then adding another layer to that, saying what shot would be best to convey the emotion that this movement is trying to say.
At the beginning of the video, I looked at it from a storytelling point of view. I didn’t want to reveal right away that the two dancers would be facing or confronting each other. And since the whole thing is about body image, I just wanted to get as close to the body as possible. This allowed me to reveal bits of information and have control over it, like what part of the body are we looking at? And who are we looking at? And why are we looking at it?
Then, we see the two of them together and the idea was to take this self-image and self-reflection and then add in the element of comparing to another person. So, all of a sudden you have two people who both have this self-image issue and they’re comparing themselves with the other person, not knowing that the other person is comparing themselves to them. [Which is why] when we go back to the mirrors, we made a point to have the other dancer in the mirror as well.
[Next we] wanted to show that it was a breaking point of sorts. So, we put on a lens to kind of distort a little bit and make the angles a little awkward and that’s when they’re laughing and breaking down.
We had this idea of the chaos just building. Early on we knew that there was going to be this conflict between them, so the way I wanted to capture it was to get the camera moving and go back and forth with them and try to get Blake [Hutchinson, cinematographer] a part of the choreography, so he kind of joins the dance. I think it adds this really nice movement to the whole thing, and adds a bit of force to all the pushing and pulling through the mirror.
Tell me a bit about the acting coach’s role?
Avery – I wanted acting to be at the forefront of this piece. It was really important to me that the story came across and that it wasn’t just acting through the body, it was fully immersive for these characters. I found it difficult to keep an eye on the choreography and the intricacies of the choreography and also keep an eye on the acting and the intricacies of the acting as well. I felt like I had to split myself in half and I couldn’t do both at the same time.
So, I brought in an acting coach and it was incredibly useful. That was her focus and my focus was on the choreography. She knew exactly where I wanted to go with it and she had ways of informing the dancers on how to truthfully convey different emotions, that was a skill that I didn’t have.
Tell me a bit about the choreographic process for this piece?
How did the day of filming go?
Avery – It was not a stress-less day at all…
Jordan – We get to the studio and the studio’s a complete mess from the people who left it over. And there was this crud on the windows [which we wanted to get natural light from], so the first thing I had my crew do – who I wanted to be setting up the camera and setting up rigs and everything – was scrubbing the windows down so we killed off a whole hour.
Avery – Within the first 30 minutes of shooting, one the dancers accidentally kicked the mirror and cracked it in half. We didn’t a have a backup, because those mirrors were so complicated to make in the first place. But luckily the way that we were filming it, we could work around it and you weren’t able to see it. At the end of the day when we went to go move the mirrors, that one broke. Just completely shattered.
Lexee Duval and Bri Zubick on set with Avery Dupuis
Tell us about the symbolism in the piece.
Avery – The biggest symbol of all is the mirror obviously, and one’s relationship with their mirror and how the more you look at yourself the more distorted of
a view you can gain.
The other symbol is the frame. These two women who are going through very similar journeys with their bodies, who are now completely hypnotized by this perception that they have about the way that they look, then turn to each other and look at each other in a way that is almost competitive and it’s destructive. It’s a symbol for how women treat women a lot of the time because of the societal pressures that we have put on our shoulders.
What is the message of the final shot?
At the very end, you find the fourth wall or the audience on the other side of the mirror, giving you a look into…if this is something you are going through, how far is it going to go? Or are there elements of this kind of behaviour that you can match with your own behaviours currently?
All pictures by Corey Glover.
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