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Jennifer Stahl on Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
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It’s a big leap from the stage of the grand Metropolitan Opera House to a film festival in New York’s trendy Long Island City neighborhood in Queens. But a group of American Ballet Theatre dancers recently made the jump—with intriguing results.
On a Grass Field is a 17-minute silent film produced by corps member Eric Tamm with funds he received from a 2012 Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship. He’d wanted to make a dance film ever since meeting Pontus Lidberg, and seeing his a dance film The Rain a couple years earlier. "It was incredibly beautiful," says Tamm. "My immediate thoughts were, 'How can I be part of a project like this?'" As soon as he received the fellowship, Tamm approached his film-loving colleague Luis Ribagorda, and asked him to direct. “Eric and I decided that just recording dancing wasn't enough for us,” says Ribagorda. “We wanted to make something meaningful. We decided to make a short film that used dance as a way of expressing people’s feelings.”
With writing help from his sister, Ribagorda based the story on something that they’d seen on Spanish TV about an older couple that had been married for 60 years—they were asked how they stayed together for so long and Ribagorda based the film on their answer. ABT dancers Sarah Lane, Nicole Graniero and Sterling Baca signed on to perform alongside Tamm, and the group drove up to Kinderhook, NY, for three days of filming. The process was a bit of a surprise. “In a live performance, you have one chance to get everything right,” says Tamm. “On a film set, you are asked to repeat things multiple times, because they need different angles, and to make sure they have everything right in the scene (lighting, focus, etc.).” At the same time, these dancers accustomed to having 4,000 eyes on them had to adjust to dancing for no one but the camera.
After a year and a half of putting everything together, the team showed family and friends what they had created just for fun—but realized it had an exceptional, emotional effect. It's now on the film festival circuit, and had its public premiere at the Chain New York City Film Festival earlier this month. “The beauty of film,” says Tamm, “is that you can pull the focus of the audience by zooming in on a specific part of the choreography and show them the story through your eyes.” Ribagorda adds, “We, as dancers, know that dance is made to be watched on a stage. Unfortunately, after many years and many performances, we realize that ballet is very forgettable. It is still not a widely recognizable profession, it takes such hard work and it is a short career. No matter how successful you are, whatever you do or feel on stage stays there in that moment with you and the audience. On film it will always be there for everyone to appreciate.” Keep an eye out for future screening dates and locations.