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Dance Race, film by Corey Baker

The Art of the Short Film

Northern Ballet's dance shorts for the BBC's Dance Passion

As we blink from the stupor of the near-hibernation of New Year and slowly come around to (supposedly) changing seasons, Northern Ballet have provided some incredible work on film to watch as storms batter the United Kingdom. Here is a round up of some of the most interesting ones to catch online. The artistry is superb, inventive and all have completely distinct visions in their ouevre.

Corey Baker is an impressive young film maker from New Zealand, and his short film Dance Race, create as part of the BBC’s Dance Passion strand for February and March, features a dizzying array of genres, filmed in unusual locations. The fast cuts and rapid editing bring a wild pace to a series of incredible feats, from balletic skydiving to leaping onto cars. Featuring Northern Ballet’s Aurora Piccininni and Wesley Branch going head to head with Strictly Come Dancing stars, it’s like a pure shot of adrenalin.

It all plays out like an eccentric road trip, and there are some real watch through your fingers moments. It’s not for those who feel afraid of heights, or balk at car stunts, but you’re left marvelling at the sheer virtuosity on display. 

Riku Ito in I AM MER-LIN by Charlotte Edmonds. Photograph by Lottie Maher

A more pared-back, but equally fascinating, short film can be found in choreographer and film maker Charlotte Edmonds’ I AM MER-LIN, a humane and witty exploration of identity starring Northern Ballet soloist Riku Ito. Ito, clad in a dark tunic, cycling shorts and little black boots, has the sweet countenance of a 1930s silent movie star with his wide, darting eyes lined with kohl pencil, and cunning, quicksilver movements. He sometimes responds to the metre of the poem, which serves as both narrative device and illustration of the themes within. Ito’s hands fly, his body lurches back, he prowls, clings to large chunky pillars, pops first a head and then hands around them; cautious, fluid, feeling his way, trusting in the space to sustain him, before attempting forward motion. Now emboldened, he struts along the floor. He is now at once wizard and child, brilliant alchemist and junior novice, his expressions telling tales of formative experiments and attempted/ completed magick, casting long shadows as well as spells. “Pick axe the iceberg of conformity,” says one wonderful line from the poem. Aren’t dancers attempting just that, with their bodies?

Kin, directed by Dan Lowenstein and choreographed by Kenneth Tindall, is filmed in shadowy noirish interiors and sun-dappled daylight exteriors, and vacillates wildly between the shifting nature of brotherhood, duality, loss and escape. It takes as its inspiration David Nixon’s “Swan Lake.” The themes are deftly reinforced through flashbacks and present day time structures. Drowning is a key theme, support through traumatic experiences a weighty subtext. The underwater ballet sequences are mesmerising in their disturbing phantasmagoria. There are no reassurances posited here, no comfortable resolution for Anthony (a soulful Joseph Taylor) who is dealing with an insurmountable, all-consuming grief, evident in his slouched shoulders and thrown back head, and spasmodic movements when trying to propel himself forward. There is exceptional mirroring work between the two brothers and a water sprite-like figure  (Abigail Prudames) who is the antithesis of mermaid, a malevolent third wheel who emerges from the water like a predator. She is a test, potentially with her claw hands a suffocating totem of grief itself. The whole piece works like a symbolic fever dream, the flipside to classical ballet’s need for linear storytelling.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Kevin Poeung in EGO by Dan Lowenstein and Kenneth Tindall. Photograph by Emily Nuttall

EGO, again created by Lowenstein and Tindall, takes on entirely different topics and styles.Here, the focus is on the hidden alter ego. It’s extraordinary, a wild ride, using lucid storytelling and exceptional choreography. Four dancers—Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Kevin Poeung, along with guest dancers Sam Amos and Jonadette Carpio—are filmed in intimate domestic settings as lovers, then the situations are flipped, with the use of some eerie red lighting, and they are at each others’ throats. So even a fight for the TV remote control becomes a dance routine. Tenderness becomes savagery and vice versa, as the audience is catapulted from living room to beach, warm bath to cold tube train. Brooks-Daw and Poeung take on the balletic to and fro of relational complexity, flowing together on the sand like one entity then dividing, whereas Amos and Carpio furiously hurl drinks over each other and, through krump, popping, and some skilful, almost Matrix-like slow-mo moments, are locked into a battle of wills and gritty physicality. Carpio in particular excels, she seems to glide as though a ghost through her fight scenes. But in this at least, there is a sense of things working out.