Director and producer Rebecca Tansley
takes us behind the scenes of her documentary The Heart Dances, the journey of The Piano: the ballet
. The film, produced by Tansley and Robin Laing
, follows the creation of The Piano: the ballet
, by celebrated Czech choreographer Ji?� Buben�?ek and his production designer brother Otto, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and Moss Patterson who was engaged by the RNZB as M?ori advisor.
IMAGE/minervaproductions.co.nz. Rebecca Tansley.
What effect does being a woman have on your films?
I'm not sure if it's a particularly woman-focused thing but I'm attracted to multi-strand storylines. There's a sort of obsession with having conflict in stories now. Of course drama needs conflict, but I feel there has to be more than just that driving a story, and I think women are more interested in things. I've always thought of The Heart Dances as a multi-protagonist film.
Tell us about the challenges of filming an artistic production, and how you managed to work around or overcome them.
The biggest challenge was not having any control over what we were shooting. We knew there was a five-week rehearsal of the ballet and a performance at the end - and that's it! So one of the only scenes we set up and had a little control over were the two sequences with the dancers in an empty studio which we could actually light ourselves. I had lobbied so hard to get that day. I'd blocked out an entire afternoon for filming, and we ended up with the dancers for just 30 minutes in total, and only about ten minutes for each pair of dancers - that's no exaggeration. By the end of the day I was virtually in tears.
Getting access to the dancers was difficult because they have such a full-on and regulated schedule. Every minute of their day was spoken for. The timeframe for preparing the ballet itself was quite tight and the choreographer was under pressure and didn't want to release the dancers from rehearsal. I had to work on maintaining our relationships with the right people to ensure we had access, because in docos access is everything. I had to humble myself to keep asking for access to the dancers - it was a bit demoralising actually - and tread a fine line between pushing for access and not pissing people off!
Documentaries by nature aren't scripted but most doco makers would say that you know how some things will roll. I didn't have a lot of that! (laughs).
I'm so glad I got those set-up studio parts in though, when you come to them in the film they're like a breath of fresh air.
What are your favourite parts of the film and why?
I love those set-up studio scenes perhaps because I know what it took to pull them off but also because to me they represent the relationships thread in the story Throughout the filming process I became fascinated with the way relationships are represented. For example the way the Ada, Stewart and Baines triangle was explored in the rehearsal process, and the fact that the trajectory of their relationship mirrors parts of people's relationships everywhere. In the set-up studio scenes I asked the dancers to perform the various pas de deux from the ballet and when editing discovered these little vignettes showing how they related to each other as people. To me these sequences represent little microcosms of relationships - the push and pull, the good times and the bad times.
Another part of the film that is very special is the day (DOP) Simon Raby and I were taken out on the water with Te ?puta Tira Hoe Waka Ama Club. It was such a privilege and I think those few shots bring so much to the film.
I also loved the final interview with Ji?� when he talks about how he decided that the end of the ballet would be Ada just walking off. I knew then that he had given me the final words of the film. There's a story behind that though: his mike had cut out halfway through that interview and I only found out later when our covering sound recordist came to me and told me. I was pretty devastated. But lucky for us - as she had assured me at the time - the boom had caught his words perfectly!
What sparked your idea for this film?
I found out it was happening from someone who worked at RNZB who thought I'd be interested. I was: the resonance of the film The Piano and, the process of adapting the story for dance really interested me. I also had a strong hunch these two guys coming from Europe to adapt the work for New Zealand would throw up some interesting issues.
I'm interested in using stories in the arts to explore aspects of ourselves which are common to everyone, not just relevant to the arts or artistic people. And at the time, I was looking to make a film that that was more ambitious in scope than my last film.
What was the ratio of women involved?
Overall the crew ratio was 50:50 women: me, Robin Laing, the production manager Nicola Olsen, Laetitia Belen on second camera, the main first assistant camera Niki Winer, and other crew who joined us over the shoot. We aimed to hire women but sometimes it was challenging because our schedule was so prone to change. The Czech crew was all men, however.
What could attract more women into different roles in the film industry?
I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this as I haven't worked in many other crews other than my own! Everybody is different and their situation is different. For me, I worked for 20 years as a writer and in various roles in the media and in hospitality before I was able to make a film. I was working in a creative field, my partner was supportive, my kids were older and I decided I was capable of it after all the experience I'd had doing everything else. It was still terrifying though!
One thing I will say is that for me the process of making is really important. Documentaries have a small crew. You can put together a team and create an ethos which hopefully makes it a pleasant place to come to work. And if people feel safe and valued, they'll keep coming to work.