city.ballet. VS Dancing in the District!

Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal. (Do you see how those guys are just standing there, holding the cameras? You can’t film dance like that. Even with cameras that have accessories that cost more than the single camera we used for our video. To be fair, they also have to be inconspicuous while shooting, still, those guys appear content to stand there at that angle all day.)

We recently (finally) got around to seeing the new web series, “city.ballet.” from the New York City ballet. (@nycballet)

This is apparently the brainchild of Sarah Jessica Parker, who is these days rather notoriously known on the internet for having a long and storied face career.

With the influx of tweets, and we seriously think the NYCB is tweeting everyone who even casually mentions them, it was hard to ignore. So we grabbed a bucket of Nutella-flavored popcorn and watched the first installment. So how is it?

Well, for its budget, star power and subject matter, it better be good, ..and it is pretty good.

The first, and shorter segment focuses on “character” introductions and their current ranks in the company. Because these are real dancers, there is not much different by way of personalities, as everyone is driven, and everyone expels the same moxie. -and we’re fine with this. We are very glad that this will focus on the skills and what it takes to be a ballet dancer, as opposed to flat out drama. (We’ll let you know if that stuff takes over later.) There isn’t a lot in terms of spending time with the people, so we’ll comment on what we also love to critique; the video!

The quality of the picture is what you’d expect. All the editing goodies are here; slow motion, close ups, rack focus, and long shots on a slider. But what you’ll notice is that there are a LOT of quick cuts. Quick Cuts exist in a project for two reasons; to speed up pacing and action, and to cover up shots that didn’t quite hold their greatness for very long. In dance, this is a commonality.

So how are we going to rate an internationally recognized, celebrity-backed large corporation video made/shot/edited by two separate production companies?

-By comparing it to one of our non-funded, single person ventures with no corporate or celebrity backing of any kind!

..This is all in good fun, mind you. After all, it would be ridiculous to realistically compare us to them.

Obviously, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

So let’s take a look at the NYCB video for examples.

Example One: Dance filming. – starts at 00:32 of the above (linked) video.

You’ll notice a male dancer’s head moving down, and the camera is already a step behind him. Either the videographer does not know how to film dance, or was just unprepared for it. In either scenario, the shot is a classic case of dance video failing dance. The last thing you want to do when filming dance is to “follow” the dancer. You see, it takes a certain discipline to film dance. By this, we mean, you have to be able to hold your shot. If you don’t, you get a “following frame” like the example above. Watch our video, and notice he we hold fast to a shot, and don’t follow the dancer. This keeps the dancer as the single performer, and the camera still enough to enjoy and admire the movement. JERKING THE CAMERA BACK AND FORTH TO CATCH A DANCER IS JARRING AND A SIGN OF SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO FILM DANCE, and is possibly untrained in the discipline, or unfamiliar with it altogether. Now let’s look at a video from our upcoming Dancing in the District series.

Note our subject dancer, Amanda, at 1:03. We orbit around her, and in doing so, no motion stabilizer of any kind was used during filming, or in post-production. This was shot on a standard, stock HD camera that you can purchase at Best Buy RIGHT NOW. Also, she is performing Modern Dance, and improvising, not repetitive Ballet warm-up motions like the NYC/AOL Ballet video. The zoom is used to expand the range of view, and at 1:10, when she unexpectedly shoots her posture up, WE DON’T FOLLOW HER BODY UP WITH THE CAMERA, we instead hold fast to the current frame. You see, dance can be that unpredictable and fast. Modern Dance the more unpredictable, Ballet, the faster. But all dance is subconsciously built on returning to the center. That is why it is imperative to stand your ground, because seeing a dancer return to your frame makes for a powerful shot, instead of blindly swinging your zoomed lens around to play catch up.

Example Two: Interviewing shots. – throughout the video.

Interviews are supposed to be personal. They are supposed to be one person letting a world into their life. It’s simple really, the further back the person, the less powerful. (in most cases) What can we say? Watch our video of how we interview Amanda with a variety of distances, and watch how City.Ballet. takes a tried and true by-the-book standpoint. Their method works, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It goes to show you that big corporations and big names have a lot to learn about filming dance. -or that maybe that there isn’t an urgency to learn the adjustment.

Let’s just cut this off here and say; Do we like city.ballet. on AOL? Of course we do.

We love seeing dance in the limelight, and we’ve had some fun in this article, but to be fair, the production companies for city.ballet. have been respectful in how, when, where and who they film. At the end of the day, dance needs all the help it can get if it is to compete with the instant gratification that today’s technology provides. We look forward to more episodes, and encourage people to go rogue and create their own! So keep an eye out for the New York City ballet, and IsItModern?‘s Dancing in the District!