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Ballet Zaida Debuts Video Project: Interview With Creator Oliver Endahl

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(Photo: Oliver Endahl. Dancer: Nicole Voris.)

Chances are, if you follow dance (or have an Instagram account at all), you have seen shots from Ballet Zaida: The shots of exceptional dancers amidst spectacular surroundings catch your gaze and hold it, ranging from eye-popping colors to scenery that makes heaven seem not quite so far away. Ballet Zaida is photographic dynamite, the equivalent of visual poetry: By taking the best of ballet and showing it off everywhere from pools and oceans to cityscapes and stairwells, Ballet Zaida's images are the stuff of current icon status, and have helped redefine ballet and art as we know them.

Now, the creator and photographer behind Ballet Zaida, Oliver Endahl, is taking that one step further: In July, Ballet Zaida will be posting one video every day, which will feature dancers improvising to original music by different composers, all of which will be available to download free of charge. Ballet Zaida has officially transcended one artistic medium, and recaptured the essence of what art is in the modern world: A collaboration. As Endahl notes, "everyone is an artist, and now technology has made it easier than ever to create and share it with the world."

The videos, which were shot in 4-8 different takes, will unveil a surprising twist about their own production toward the end of the month: Without revealing Endahl's genius move, this twist further elaborates on the ever-evolving, consistently stimulating creation of art online, and Ballet Zaida's presence in the world of storytelling.

Inspired by Ballet Zaida's latest project, I chatted with Oliver about what went on behind-the-scenes in terms of creating the videos, the inspiration behind his move into film, and the power of connection:


(Photo: Oliver Endahl. Dancer: Nicole Voris.)

How did you first get the idea to delve into film? Are there differences in how ballet translates in a photograph versus a video?

I'm a huge fan of movies. My two favorite genres of art are film and dance, and I've always wanted to combine them. So little has been done with dance on film that it leaves the door wide open for new ideas and concepts. And now that technology and social media has made it easier than ever to create and share videos, I think we're about to see a huge increase in them.

There's a big difference between photos and videos of dance for me. Photographs are interesting because you get to clearly see the amazing position the dancer has achieved and how beautiful that one line really is for as long as you want. Videos are also about the specific position the dancer achieves, but they're also about the dancer's movement quality, their acting, the scenery they're dancing in as a whole, etc.. It's a lot more information compared to a photo.

Is there anything you can tell us about the behind-the-scenes creation of these videos?

All the videos are improvised dance, which means the dancers made up the movements on the spot with no rehearsal. When we film at an indoor location I'll turn on music I think best fits the mood and then give them cues to go off of while we film. The cues can either be very concrete such as, "turn towards the center, move slowly towards the wall, stop, now move faster and more contemporary". Or they can be very abstract, such as "pretend you're dancing in a Paris Opera house 50 years ago".

If we're filming outdoors, there's no music. I'll tell the dancer a suggestion, such as "start facing away from the camera for 32 counts, then turn, and do movements that fluctuate between quick and slow the whole time."

After we feel satisfied with the footage we got, I'll go home and experiment with the footage in editing. This involves cutting and putting the clips in various different orders, and also experimenting with different songs and seeing which one works the best for that video.

How do improvisation and other art forms come together here? Why is fusing different artistic mediums together A) important to you, and B) important to ballet?

There's a lot of different things that go into these videos. The costumes, the dancers themselves, the specific style of dance they're doing, my camera movements, the emotions/story we're conveying, the music created by the composer, the editing of what clips we choose to show, and then also how we present the work through social media is all part of the artistic process.

Fusing arts and collaborating helps us come together as a society. Everyone loves art. Dance, music and story telling are ingrained throughout all of human history, and that's exactly what dance film is.

Our world, especially with the rise of life online, is incredibly visual and connected. How does ballet fit into this?

One of the best parts of our world being more connected is the ability to share stories.

Everything we do in life is based on the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other, and ballet is part of that story. It's something incredible that takes so long to learn and understand. It requires you learn dedication, artistic taste, knowledge of the body, music, empathy, politics, grit, and perhaps most importantly, patience. My hope is that more people will be exposed to dance through our connected world and hopefully it will inspire them and help them live a more enriched life.

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