Highlights from Dance Camera West: FANFARE for MARCHING BAND

by ashleyandersondances

Below, Kingsley Irons (who runs DancesMadeToOrder.com) interviews director Danièle Wilmouth and choreographer Peter Carpenter about FANFARE for MARCHING BAND, which was recently screened at Dance Camera West in California. The film follows the antics of a ragtag musical militia, as they embark on an impotent invasion through a parallel universe where their exuberant music is out of sync and unheard.

(photo by Sanghoon Lee) 
I felt really lucky to see FANFARE for MARCHING BAND at the Dance Camera West festival in Los Angeles last weekend. It totally made my night and I sing the film’s praises every chance I get.  It has a very special, surreal, cheerful quirkiness and spot-on comedic timing.  But the film’s themes also have larger social implications…Director Danièle Wilmouth and choreographer Peter Carpenter take a moment to speak with me about their ambitious film and process.

What was the inspiration for your film?

Peter: The film began as a project for Danièle, MUCCA PAZZA and a delightful choreographer/improviser named Asimina Chremos—now based in Philly.  When Asimina left town, I was brought in to work on the project. At that point (January 2011) I knew that they wanted the band to be the primary movers/dancers in the film and that the film would consist of “Actions for Joy” in public spaces, spaces where such joyful actions would feel inappropriate.  For me the final product emerges as a meditation on the potential for movement and stillness in public space.  

I had seen MUCCA PAZZA several times previously, and loved them.  I played the euphonium (small tuba) quite seriously in high school and was the field commander of my high school marching band.  I practiced music long before I started dancing, so this was a dream project for me.  On a more micro level, once Danièle and I decided on songs that we wanted to use (the band provided a short list of newer works), I created some choreography to bits of music with the band, Danièle provided feedback, and we went from there. The written musical score became the script for the work—each shot was designed around a number of musical bars. A big part of my job on the shoot was not only cleaning choreography and adapting choreography to location (we never rehearsed in location prior to the shoot), but also communicating the score/script to the band and Daniéle.  Since we had so many edits that relied on matching action at specific choreographic and musical moments, this had to be done with some care.

Danièle: The original proposal, was to create a dance film of Mucca Pazza (an anarchic 30 piece circus punk marching band), staging guerilla style musical ACTIONS for JOY in inappropriate locations around the city of Chicago.

Spinning off the history of military marching bands, I enjoyed the image of a ridiculous clown army, who infects Chicago with a shot of magical musical realism during these lean economic times.FANFARE for MARCHING BAND is not overtly polemic, but certain world events inspired ideas for the film.  For example, the Arab Spring was in full swing when we were writing the proposal for the EMPAC Dance Movies Commission (which we eventually received).  The Occupy movement had not yet started in the US, but its rumblings could be felt.

A brainstorm from my journal about the film…

“It is inside the waiting rooms and lobbies, the bustling markets, train stations and passageways, where travelers break stride for a moment, converge and then separate toward their unique destinations. It is in these ripe intersections, these everyday happenstances and accidental collisions, where adventure and tiny revolutions are born. The ordinary is potentially extraordinary, the static is suddenly ecstatic. During these fleeting moments of possibility and self-awareness, all that is left to do is stop, pause, listen….
and see what happens.”

FANFARE for MARCHING BAND is about the potential for magic and the extraordinary to suddenly erupt from under the surface of mundane daily routine, and change one’s perspective.
How would you describe your creative/collaborative process for this film?

Peter: I really appreciated the way that Danièle facilitated the collaboration between MUCCA PAZZA, myself and all the other artists.  She gathers lots of information and input and then quietly makes decisions based on a deep filtering process.  I learned a great deal about revision from her.

Danièle:
It started with many brainstorming sessions with members of Mucca Pazza, including wonderful input from Mark Messing (Sousaphone player) and Meghan Strell (Blue Cheer). Eventually I chose to work with three original compositions from Mucca Pazza’s repertoir: Touch the Police by Jon Steinmeier, Sexy Bull by George Lawler and Fanfare by Andy Deitrich.Then Peter Carpenter requested musical scores, and constructed the movement around the phrasing and instrumentation of each section of music. We only had ten rehearsals, which were all done in Mucca Pazza’s studio.  I videotaped each rehearsal, in order to find interesting cinematography to compliment Peter’s choreography.

Therefore, the sheet music literally became the script for the dance, the cinematography & eventually the editing of this film.  Each shot was designed for a particular section of music.  My shot lists were organized down to specific meters and notes in the musical scores.   This made editing easy, as the order of shots had been pre-determined before the film was shot. Then Mark Messing helped immensely in post-production with sound design & audio mixing.

What were some of the challenges in creating such an ambitious piece?

Peter: There were many challenges to the project of this scope.  I had created large-scale projects before—a community celebration with 60+ cast members in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was the largest—but never for film. The two disciplines share some similarities, but are profoundly different, and my learning curve was pretty steep. Spacing the choreography for the final song in Union Station was pretty crazy, and locking down public spaces was nuts.  That said, I think the biggest crunch was time.  From the time that I was brought in, we only had a couple of months till shooting, and I had numerous other projects running simultaneously, in addition to my full-time job at Columbia College.  We had 10 rehearsals to create this work with a 25+ group of people who didn’t dance, and I hadn’t worked with before.  Danièle and I had seen each other’s work but hadn’t collaborated previously.

Danièle:
Challenges?  No sane person would embark to direct another film, unless they were under the temporary delusion that it would be easier the next time around.  Unfortunately in my experience, it seems to get harder with each new film.

Location permissions, recruiting extras, weather, scheduling, transporting & feeding our 70+ member cast & crew, were among the typical filmmaking challenges.

Some challenges unique to FANFARE for MARCHING BAND were…

Freezing the world around the band.  This included people, cars, etc.  and was particularly perplexing in the outdoor locations.  To solve this problem, we often used aerial shots, looking straight down from a 40 ft. Jib arm.  Or placed Mucca Pazza’s bus at the end of tunnels, to block the camera’s view of the street beyond.

Recording the audio & music on location, in sync, as the band was dancing for the camera, was another challenge. Unlike the process of shooting a music video, nothing in FANFARE was recorded in a studio.  We used multiple stereo microphones and booms on location. We wanted to capture the sound perspective from the camera’s POV as it passed different instruments.  We were also very interested in the discontinuity of sonic environments, as the film cuts from one location to the next.  How does a marching band sound in a supermarket, compared to Union Station, etc.

Since the music would be recorded as the band was dancing for the camera, the choreography couldn’t inhibit the band’s ability to play the music WELL while dancing.  So, our choreographer Peter Carpenter not only had to design choreography for non-dancers, but also choreography which was inspiring, without being too difficult for the band to play the music skillfully.

Who/what are some of your artistic influences?

Peter: Artistic influences include some wonderful mentors who I was able to study with at UCLA:  David Roussève, Dan Froot, Victoria Marks, and the scholarship of Susan Foster, David Gere and Marta Savigliano have all been very important to me—both for their artistic/scholarly products and their incredible teaching/mentoring.  Other artists include:  Pina Bausch, early Bill T. Jones, early DV8, Ron Athey, Ishmael Houston-Jones. I’ve also been very influenced by queer work in night club spaces—the Chicago Kings, in particular, have really intensified my consideration of humorously re-appropriating popular culture for subversive political projects.

Danièle: The humor and originality of Tattoo, You Made Me Love You & Fisticuffs by Miranda Pennell.  I love the fact that she rarely uses conventional ‘dance’ or ‘dancers’ in her ‘dance films’.  The Graduate, all the films of Maya Deren and Last Year at Marienbad for their creative use of cinematography and editing.  I appreciate the way these films exploit continuity & discontinuity techniques from shot to shot, in order to merge various locations, and match movement / action across time and space.

Reality notwithstanding, what is the dream film you would like to make?

Peter: In terms of a dream film… hmmm…. I made a dance a few years ago called “The Sky Hangs Down Too Close.”  It was commissioned by Chicago’s Lucky Plush Productions and was this abstract response to Bertolt Brecht’s Jungle of Cities (1929). The stage version was about 80 minutes and served as a poetic, kinetic rant against capitalism and the ways economies manipulate bodies—but also about the ways that bodies can create economies of their own… I’d love to create a film adaptation with some of the original cast and condense those ideas to a 40-minute work.  The cast is now dispersed far and wide, so it would be a dream to get them all in the same room again…

Danièle:
All of my previous films feel like dream films.  They were all wondrous obsessions, excruciatingly difficult, but so rewarding in the end.  I thrive on collaboration, and love to learn from other disciplines.

In the case of FANFARE for MARCHING BAND I had the honor to work with fantastic collaborators like Mucca Pazza, who can make the most mundane meeting agenda fun.  Mark Messing, who is the leader of Mucca Pazza, as well as a brilliant composer & sound designer.  Peter Carpenter, an imaginative & gutsy choreographer, and the tireless & generous Meghan Strell, the co-producer of the film.

On a more personal note: If we were hanging out with you for a day, what would we do?

Peter: In terms of a day in the city with Peter Carpenter….  That depends on the city we’re in.  In Chicago, I would definitely make breakfast at my apartment in Rogers Park and then we’d walk by the lake (a couple blocks away!).  Then we could ride bikes along the lake front trail and spend some time at the Museum of Contemporary Art…. Bag lunch in Millenium Park?  Later, nap and catch a show by some of the really excellent smaller Chicago dance companies… The Seldoms, Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak and Lucky Plush are some of my favorites right now. Then we could catch a MUCCA PAZZA show late night?  How’s that for a good day?

In LA, I’d be up for any day that involved lunch in Korea Town.  I used to live near 3rd and Normandy and I miss the unlimited, 24 access to Bi Bim Bop and donuts.  And I’d like to see a show at Highways…  Dancing at Oil Can Harry’s—a gay country-western bar in Studio City completes the night.

Danièle:
In the morning, we could head to Lake Michigan for a run, or perhaps a paddle up the Chicago River in a Kayak.  Then head to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I work.  Many of my days are spent either editing, compressing, or viewing a film of some sort.   I agree with Peter that we’d need to spend the evening at a live show by Mucca Pazza, especially if they are playing at their favorite small club in Chicago called The HideOut.

“Like” it on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/fanfareformarchingband

For more information visit:
http://hairlessfilms.org/index.html

The film’s official site (under construction):
www.fanfareformarchingband.com

MUCCA PAZZA
http://mucca-pazza.org/

The DVD of FANFARE for MARCHING BAND will go on sale in the Fall of 2012. It’s totally worth it! Keep your eyes peeled!

(photo by Sanghoon Lee)

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