Squared: Making of

28 January, 2020

It all started as I was rehearsing on “The Square” performance, left alone in a studio with theatrical lights and video equipment (i.e. in a creative playground…).

Thinking of a way to relate my research with the artistic potential of dancing for the camera, I began exploring the possibility to think dramaturgically and, perhaps, deliver my research, through the making of a screendance film.

First, I got fascinated by a distancing obscurity I felt when seeing my shadow dancing the square on the white wall. Later, I was also attracted by the potential for multiplication, distortion, and fragmentation of the body image by playing with the distance of the studio lights from the wall and the filming distance.

First, I got fascinated by the distancing obscurity I felt when seeing my shadow dancing “The Square” before the white walls of the studio. I then started thinking on the potential for multiplication, distortion, and fragmentation of the body image while playing with the lights, the filming distance, and the shapes my dancing shadow was taking on the white wall. I considered that filming only my shadow dancing “The Square” could become a wonderful translation of the work and, possibly an expansion of its dramaturgy through choreographing filming and editing.

30 JANUARY – 06 February, 2020
BY TRIAL AND ERROR: DEVELOPMENT OF THE IDEA AND PEREPARATION

I started thinking about and, in this case, through the set up. Where do I put the lights and the camera, in order to achieve my physical body not being in the frame and a satisfying cinematographic result? Should I use one or two lights, and of which kind since different lamps give different aesthetic and dramaturgical approaches? How much will I intervene into the performance’s movement material and its narration? How much should I improvise? Should I film many big and continuous clips, keeping some of the performance’s narration, or small clips that are not chronologically combined instead? How do I set up in each case and, more importantly, what is each path’s artistic and dramaturgical potential?

As soon as I realized how many possible paths different answers to these questions offered, I started thinking through its technical part. After playing a lot with camera manual controls and experimenting with several filming, lighting, setting up and unsetting […] try-outs, I decided to create a “single shot” of my shadow, dancing the fractal-inspired spatial structure used in “The Square” performance, though in a different time-frame, 10 min instead of 45.

However, this perceived as a “single shot” film, had to be achieved mainly through editing. This meant that I had to ensure all the clips are shot from the same fixed point and before the same background, while following a movement and time continuity in the synthesis of the final material. I had to be out of the frame, so that one could only see my shadow dancing. That meant that I should shoot enough “empty” shots of the lit wall, as well as shots of my shadow leaving completely the frame and entering again, in order to use them in re-choreographing the whole thing as a 10-minute movement journey through editing.

Movement-wise, I decided to use improvisation and some preset material, just as I do in the performance, though I very soon realized that I had to be even more accurate when creating the geometry of the squares in space through my moving body. Physical shifts of the “center” and other “failures” which remain “invisible” during the performance would be absolutely intolerable in the case of a screendance. Furthermore, I had decided to go for relatively long shots of at least two subsequent squares –that is, separate shots of approximately 6-7 min. I also had to be continuous, so that I film natural transitions between the different squares and, finally, I would probably have to translate the performance’s movement material, in order to adjust it for this kind of filming.

MARKING THE SQUARES ON THE FLOOR

In order to achieve accuracy both in the filming and editing process, I had to mark the fractal-inspired spatial structure on the floor, as in this way I would be able to define at any instance the exact position of my moving shadow in space and in the frame.

Accuracy has been one of my major presuppositions from the very beginning of this research, and, by that time, I had already been experimenting on how to obtain spatial and movement accuracy quickly, repetitively and without leaving traces in the different studios I have been rehearsing. I have ended up with several different technologies for marking the squares of my fractal-inspired structure on the floor. For this shooting, I used a technology of transparent tape for marking the floor, along with measuring all squares with my steps.

I started with a smaller version of my structure, marking only half of it on the floor. After several filming attempts, I decided to go for the whole thing, since I found interesting, editing-wise, that in the bigger squares my shadow was appearing and disappearing from the frame, leaving it empty for some seconds, depending on each square’s size.

DECIDING ON THE LIGHTS AND THE CINEMATOGRAPHY

I finally decided to film my shadow waist-up and use two huge HMI BAU lamps, hanged serially from a tripod at eye-level height. These choices seemed to point at the same dramaturgical direction with the performance, though in a different way. Those lamps, in combination with the waist-up shot, naturally created a gradual, quite blurry close-up, as its shadow was moving towards the (non-existent) “center”. This kind of gradual close-up at the waist-up part of my shadow was activating exactly the parts of the body which play the most important part in my movement research, while giving a sensation of transparency and fluidity towards the end of the work. Also, filming my body waist-up secured myself not being in the frame in most of the squares, practically eliminating the time-consuming masking I would have to do in order to take me out during editing.

06 February, 2020
Shooting

The general set up of the shooting included a doubled light source with tripod, a white wall, the camera and its tripod and my squares marked on the floor with transparent tape. All this should be combined in a way that ensured I was not in the frame, except for the first squares. After multiple tries, calculations, designs, and “google-it” solutions I resulted in the set up shown on the last design and photos below.

All the footage used in the video was shot at once, during the same rehearsal, without moving the camera, the lights or changing the settings of the camera.

The final footage was shot with an 800D DSLR at:

  • 1920 x 1080/25p,
  • ISO 100,
  • S. speed 1/50
  • F/4.0
  • W/B at White priority
  • Auto-light optimizing ON
  • Manual Focus (This was quite tricky. At first, I was working with Autofocus at low light conditions. At some point I realized I had too much noise in the footage and started googling for a solution. When I changed to manual focus grain noise was considerably reduced).

I intentionally did not use sound during filming, as personal rhythm developed through repetition is very important in my work.

On the costume, I worked with several concepts on the hair and shirt, concluding that hair should be in a pigtail in order allow maximum micro-movement at the shadow’s silhouette and in a casual T-shirt, for it was adding some casualty to the inhumanness of my “squared” shadow.

06 – 17 April, 2020
exploring choreography of editing

When the time for the editing came, I encountered two major problems:

First, I wanted to create a 10-minute film, though I was not familiar with seeing my figure doing each square for so little time. So, I started questioning if 10 minutes are enough for the development of this idea. I started cutting and cutting in order to shrink it, finally understanding how differently time works in a cinematic version of my work. To my great surprise, less was more!

So, I worked following the narration of the performance between the squares, using empty shots of the wall to unify different phases in my improvisation and re-choreograph the material. The result was enhancing. However, after the first three squares, I realized that the way I did the shooting made me feel a little bit “lost in the woods”. All my footage was extremely similar, and it took me a while to infiltrate it, select and, most importantly, attune myself with its dramaturgy.

The second problem I encountered, was when I arrived towards the end of the film, that is the small squares where my shadow does not leave the frame anymore and stays mainly at the “center” of the square. Details of micromovement were not depicted in the shadow version of me. My physical presence was not there to elaborate with facial expression as it happens in the performance. And because micromovement and time worked so differently in the shadow screendance version of the work. I realized I had to work differently; I needed a change to keep watching.

So, I started thinking dramaturgically. This shadow figure is struggling not only with her obsession creating squares, but also with her commitment to an impossible task: to embody the shape by continuing creating the square even when it becomes undanceable due to reduction of its scale. As she starts summoning every vital organ and body part of hers, seeking for tricks to continue, she finally surrenders to her human limits, accepting her physical failure, and proceeding beyond it, transforming herself and her ways through it.

Following this story, I wondered how I could translate it through editing. I started working with multiple, overlapping clips of my shadow, changing their opacities, and producing crossfade effects. This way of working generated an illusion of my shadow’s multiplication when creating the smaller squares, which gave a sensation of the shadow figure coming in inner dialogue and emotional climax. All of these came in perfect match with my research’s context, so I immediately started processing the rest of the footage this way. At first, I prototyped my ideas for each of the rest squares and then I tried to master the ways I work on them. As a result, space and body movement gradually became transcended, fluid, multiplied, and transparent, remaining specific and accurate at the same time.

WORKING WITH SOUND

When the time came to think about the accompanying soundtrack, my music collaborator and I started experimenting with a simple rhythmical soundscape, on which voices from math lecturers would come and go at different audio volumes and, sometimes, in tandem with what was happening in the image, adding an extra dramaturgical context and layer to the work. The main intention was to adhere to a particular research discourse, the one that supports that structure and mathematical ideas are not something rigid and confining, but something within which there is law, but also fluidity, poetry, transformation and freedom.

There was a point I thought about bringing also in my own voice in the voices, by reading excepts from Chaitin’s (2007) book, in which the aforementioned idea is discussed in very intimate way. But this did not work at all. It needed a performing and technical expertise I do not process. Additionally, it was overloading the work with unneeded information. By trying this, I realized a kind of silence and contemplation my research work needs in its delivery, as it happens in “The Square” performance. Hence Chaitin’s quote in the beginning of the video. I wanted to give the viewer a hint about all this, but in total concentration and silence, by sharing what another person has stated and taking a stance next to it.

Starting quote:

 “…And I should say right away that I completely disagree with those who say that the field of mathematics embodies static eternal perfection, and that mathematical ideas are inhuman and unchanging. On the contrary, our perspective, even on basic and deep mathematical questions, often shifts in amazing and unexpected fashion. All it takes is a new idea. You just have to be inspired.”

Gregory Chaitin *

* Chaitin, G. (2007) Metamaths: The Quest for Omega. London: Atlantic Books.

masking, coloring, texts

In the end, I followed the tutorials to take me out in the first two squares.

Then I decided on the coloring, keeping the light blue hue in the background, instead of going for black and white, for it seemed to me somewhat more poetic. I believe poetry is important in what I do, since it does not quite constitute “a first thought” when thinking of math and structure.

The last thing I did was to work on the graphics, choosing a font that was representing better a “squared” version of text.

SHARING THE WORK

In the end I prepared the sail-away package of the work, containing my video, a description text, credits, and screenshots. All of these can be viewed here.