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Our Video Production Company Embraces The Darkness...

Our video production company embraces the darkness of the most off-putting take on Cinderella, probably ever.

Producing Video In The Dark

When our video production company was asked to find a piercing way into James Kudelka’s dark and truly challenging adaptation of the fairy tale classic Cinderella, we were told to subvert the breezy style of trailer typical of most other ballets in the repertoire at The National Ballet of Canada. When I watched the dress rehearsal in preparation for this unusual video production I began to understand why “different” was imperative. The creative director actually just wanted videography services at first but the concept we pitched led to us directing the entire piece, which was a great opportunity to make some strange at that incredible, but sometimes conservative institution of the most delicate of the fine arts.

One tiny caveat / tip, if you’re a commercial production company working with an arts-based organization of gargantuan distinction: if you’re going to try to reinvent their wheel, make sure you pick the right project. Kudelka’s Cinderella was so out there, basically unprecedented in how far out it stubbornly went, that I felt more comfortable pitching a video production concept that would definitely veer from all the other ballet trailers they’ve made. In a word, it just might be a good idea to make sure your crazy idea matches someone else’s crazy at the place commissioning the work.

Dana Gassman of The National Post captures a little of my awe and confusion: “there is so much action in this ballet you could see it a dozen times and still discover new details you may have missed in past viewings.” It’s about as avant-garde as a fairy tale can get it my opinion. It had strange and often halting choreography, probably to keep up with Prokofiev’s serrated and difficult score to some degree. The main spectacles you’ve come to expect like the slipper scene and the transformation at the stroke of midnight were all reworked so radically that it was actually hard to recognize them at first.

One easy thing to take in, however, was the resolute darkness and cynicism pervading almost all of the ballet’s action – the demonic characters, the haunted sets and the general flow of Kudelka’s warped version of the conventional plot. Since that was the take home that stuck with me in my gut after witnessing this truly oddball vision, that’s what I chose to run with for the teaser video production. The awful darkness of the world this particular Cinderella braves.

Essentially, I proposed to emphasize Kudelka’s upturned happy ending (the unfulfilled “if the slipper fits” motif) by showing principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez’s one naked foot falling eerily down next to her other bejewelled pointe shoe. The idea was to start off with some gorgeous upbeat shots of Cinderella spinning happily to a more lighthearted piece of Prokofiev’s score – looking gorgeous and young-spirited as Sonia does as she twirls surreally in her tattered threads – but then crush that setup at the sound of the clock; I wanted to capture the dread and tragedy of this Cinderella’s experience of going from riches to rags because this mirrors the inverted rags-to-riches take Kudelka wanted for his ballet. I thought it would be true to the spirit of the piece to take aim at viewers with that detail hanging out brazenly n the foreground.

So the concept sailed forward and the designers at our video production company went from the storyboards to the floor boards. We brought the costume artist, our film production crew and Sonia up to a rehearsal studio and then flipped off all the lights so when she spun around magically she would be completely enveloped by the darkness. Again, this was in keeping with the aesthetic motif of Kudelka’s blackened world.

Lights Off, Camera, Action

We decided on the FS-700 camera to shoot super slow motion (240 frames per second) and some Zeiss CP2 Primes to add an almost hyper-real sense of crisp focus. For the lights we went intense and bare, “Chiaroscuring it” with just two 1K LEDs blasting to one side of our spinster dancer for that deep contrasty look. And then, well, the entirety of the video production was essentially just take after take after take of spinning! I want to give huge thanks to Sonia for bearing the brunt of this idea so gracefully and generously. I know she’s a dancer and accustomed to defying nausea with her intense acrobatics but still, that was a lot of spinning for one human being to be doing no matter what their training. (I recall her mentioning that she strategically skipped breakfast for this reason so there, thanks for at least that Sonia!).

And that’s really that. Let us know if you think it captured the essence of this freaky and wonderful ballet.