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  • toby wray

Filming Community Dance Projects, Rebalancing Society.

Gracef**l Collective “Kick Off”

This summer I was commissioned to document the dance company ‘Gracefool Collective’ as they created “Kick Off”. I knew this was going to be a great project from the start, apart from already having worked with one of the directors, Kate, I love working with dancers, they are artists who see the world differently, they are generous collaborators and inspiring. The projects are often visually striking and community and society are always to their heart. This latter part speaks to me the most, as a trained youth and community arts worker I believe fervently in the importance of community and addressing the injustices we see so often all around us but rarely address.

The Performance

The “Kick Off” project was all of this and more. Did you know that women’s football was very popular in the early 19th century with over 150 registered clubs nationally? Attendances could reach over 45,000 until the FA took umbrage banning it declaring it a“most unsuitable game, too much for a women’s physical frame” and suggesting women’s wombs would fall out? This is the issue Kate and Rachel of Gracefool used to look at how women are perceived by society and each other and how behaviour plays a role in that perception.Their work was incredible, their talent’s lie not only the brilliant choreographic capabilities but, working with a diverse group of people of all ages their ability to draw out their inner performer was very impressive. Add to that the coordination of professional dancers and musicians, costumes, budgets etc and a new born baby and you realise that these two could quite easily be left to run the country and we’d all feel a lot happier!

The result is a work that starts as a dance piece, a work of art and a political march that turns to a football chant and back to dance. The audience watched, followed, joined in, laughed and clapped and had a thoroughly good time.

The Shoot

Technically there was a lot to do. I filmed and interviewed at 2 rehearsals mixing gimballed camera movement with my shoulder mounted camera. For the performance I directed two camera ops and decided to record sound too as the live percussion and vocal performances needed to be part of the final video I felt. It was a tricky set up on a limited budget and only a 4 channel mixer. I mixed 3 radio mics distributed strategically with the performers with quieter instruments and the main percussionist Beibei Wang (did I mention the musical director was an internationally renowned percussionist who also got involved with the dancing?!). I also covered the vocals and main audio with the old reliable cabled rifle mic on a boom, film school training never lets me down! There were some issues with the new bluetooth radio mics, not a technology I’ll be investing in but overall we got great content.

The Edit

I have always felt you get a way better result if you take the time to transcript interviews. Seeing the language used written down feels far more like editing and assembling an academic essay as opposed to putting a bunch of sentences in no particular order! So when Premiere got a transcript function I was over the moon! It still takes a lot of work depending on accents, background noise etc but it’s a dream as far as I’m concerned. It also means, as in this case, you can offer it ago support evaluation by the project leaders who are often grateful for this added tool as there is often little time or budget for such things. Inevitably in the edit a twenty minute interview gets cut to two minutes of compressed speech so the transcript helps keep that value for all the stakeholders.

After that I spent time assembling the final performance in a rough order ( I wasn’t asked to create a full length version). This narrative was preceded by the rehearsals illustrating the building of sequences and motifs. In counterpoint the interviews covered several aspects of the project split into history, politics and the artists personal journeys and experiences.

Beibei’s interview was particularly personal as she talked about her youth in China, a country where female roles are still viewed in a conservative way forcing her to pursue her own path so she identified strongly with the project. Interviews like this show great trust and I was keen to maintain the integrity and essence of what was said by all the participants which is tricky when you need to compress dialogue into a short video. Sometimes when interviewing I use a technique where you repeat the question and in repeating the answers the interviewee automatically summarise their answers and also use less hesitation and repetition. It’s not always appropriate though. Fundamentally if you want good answers you must build trust with people. I’ve seen BBC camera ops shove a camera within inches of peoples faces on their first meeting and ask the most personal questions, needless to say the answers are rarely an expression of intimate emotion.

Four different cameras from three different manufacturers does not make for an easy grade but I always look at it as an opportunity to improve my skills and decided on a look that worked comfortably. The audio mix of the live content was much easier than I thought perhaps down to the amount of preparation and thought I’d put into it, I like to think so anyway. Kate and Rachel’s main feedback was about making sure everyone got their time on screen and their credit’s correct which is testament to their principled approach and I hope to my editing.

It’s always sad when a project comes to an end and after their final bows the artists continued to dance and chat and play which became the backdrop to the credits which were relatively long. As a filmmaker you often get involved late into a project like this and it can be surprising how much organisation has happened in the background with community projects especially with the notoriously thin funding for the arts we have in this country. As late as my involvement was I still felt part of a great team such was the openness and warmth exhibited by this collective, long may ‘Gracefool’ and their like weave through our societal consciousness.

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