Pas de Deux: A Dancer's-Eye View of a Performance

From a series of behind-the-scenes documentaries about the New York City Ballet, Pas de Deux uses small HD cameras to put the viewer in the dancers' shoes. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette, principle dancers at the company and a married couple in real life, perform the wedding pas de deux from Tschaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty and share some insight into what's going on in their heads during a performance. The director of the video, Galen Summer, talks about the making of the series in an interview below. Stay tuned for more from the series on the Atlantic Video channel. 

The Atlantic: What was the genesis of this project?

Galen Summer: The producer of media for the New York City Ballet reached out to me because they wanted to do a series of short documentaries that looked at different aspects of the work that goes on behind the scenes at the ballet. They had seen a short film I did about a Brooklyn tailor named Martin Greenfield (the film is called Lessons From a Tailor and can be seen here) and they saw a connection between that and the stories they wanted to tell. Needless to say, I was excited about getting to discover a world that I was really unfamiliar with at the time.

How did you decide what stories to tell?

The ballet had topics in mind that they wanted to cover, such as the work done by the costume shop to maintain and restore tutus, and the story of everything that goes into supplying the dancers with pointe shoes, including the importance of the shoes as a tool in the creative process. The Pas De Deux film, where we see a dance performed from the perspective of two dancers, was conceived of as a way to show the audience what it feels like for the dancers to perform on stage. We came up with the idea of literally attaching the camera to the dancers so that it felt like you were dancing with them. 

How did you shoot the Pas De Deux piece?

As I mentioned, we convinced the team at the ballet that the best way to do this was to actually attach a camera to the dancers’ bodies and shoot them dancing. There was definitely some concern that the dancers would injure themselves trying to dance with the extra weight of the camera on them, and so we played with the idea of doing it with a lightweight Flip camera strapped to their heads. We quickly ruled that out because the footage just looked like a wild mess. Our director of photography, Hillary Spera, suggested that we rent a body harness rig that the dancers would wear like a vest, and that allowed us to get shots where they were stationary in the frame and the world moved around them. We basically just approached the shoot very carefully, so that no one got hurt, but it was still pretty stressful. The last thing we wanted was to have someone jeopardize their career for our video. The dancers actually had a lot of fun doing it, and did an amazing job in the very short amount of time that we had to shoot it. You can see them smiling and laughing in some of the shots, which I think is great. In the end I was really happy with the way that turned out. 

What's next for you?

I recently launched a production company with some other filmmakers called Union HZ where we are making more short documentaries, brand films, and commercials. I'm really hoping to get another opportunity to collaborate with an arts organization like the ballet because I find everything about the creative process fascinating. Especially the things that go on behind the scenes, that most people aren't aware of, that make all of the rest of the work possible. 

For more films by Galen Summer, visit http://www.unionhz.tv/.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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