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Go Behind the Lens

Go Behind the Lens

Seven Insights from the Filming of Dance of Dreams

On Thursday, August 13, San Francisco Ballet released Dance of Dreams, our first official dance film created during shelter in place. Commissioned by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, Dance of Dreams is directed by Benjamin Millepied, and choreographed by Justin Peck, Dwight Rhoden, Janie Taylor, and Christopher Wheeldon. Soon after the premiere of the dance film, several of the cast and production staff reunited (virtually) to give us a peek behind-the-lens of Dance of Dreams.

Choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Christopher Wheeldon were joined by SF Ballet Production Director Christopher Dennis; Manager of Wardrobe, Wig, Make-Up & Costume Construction Kate Share; and SF Ballet Soloists Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira. They shared seven behind-the-scenes facts about filming and production.

1. Two Days, Four Locations

Filming took place over the course of two days in four different locations. To comply with health and safety requirements, no more than twelve people were permitted onsite, including the dancers and crew. SF Ballet also had a Park Ranger onsite at two locations to help with crowd control.

Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

2. Fishing and Filming

Fort Baker, where we filmed Rhoden’s pas de deux for Hummel and Deivison-Oliveira, is a popular fishing spot. At one point in the film, you can even see someone fishing in the background!

3. Zoom Rehearsals

Choreographing via Zoom and while sheltering in place at home presents all sorts of challenges! Hummel and Deivison-Oliveira found out the hard way just how low their chandelier is and Wheeldon almost had to make his piece a pas de trois when Freemantle and Keesler’s cat kept inserting itself into the choreography.

Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

4. Contending with Karl

Rhoden had the Golden Gate Bridge in mind when he began working on this piece, but some things are easier in the imagination than in real life! As you can see from the photo, the surface at Fort Baker in front of the bridge is incredibly uneven, and the weather was cold and windy. Certain parts of the choreography had to be modified due to the conditions. As the day ended, the crew was also racing to keep the light and bridge in focus as the fog (known to many Bay Area residents as Karl) started to roll in. But these natural elements ultimately added to the film’s dreamy, mysterious atmosphere.

“There’s a moment where Daniel is promenading me and I just looked up at the sky
and it was just so open, like the heavens, light coming down, no boundaries.”
—Soloist Ellen Rose Hummel

Benjamin Freemantle shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

5. Equipment is Key

The specific steadicam used by the director of photography is one of only four in the country. The camera can film head to toe and flip 180 degrees. The dancers needed to talk through what they were going to do to ensure they didn’t kick the camera! Wheeldon shared that once, on a different project, he had to pull the cameraman around to get the best shot.

San Francisco Ballet shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

6. Choreographing for the Palace

Wheeldon knew that filming for his piece would take place at the Palace of Fine Arts, so he kept that location in mind as he choreographed. Prior to filming, Freemantle and Keesler were able to go down to the site to rehearse. Of all the locations, the Palace had the very best acoustics, allowing the two dancers to hear the music better than at the other locations, even as they traveled the length and width of the rotunda.

San Francisco Ballet shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

7. Recording At a Distance

Through the magic of technology, Music Director & Principal Conductor Martin West created an original recording of the film’s score played by SF Ballet Orchestra: Scene d’Amour by Bernard Herrmann from Vertigo. Sixty members of the Orchestra recorded their individual tracks and submitted them to West, who then spent two weeks mixing and balancing the recordings into one beautiful piece of music!

San Francisco Ballet shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet

If you enjoyed the film, and this glimpse behind-the-lens, please consider making a gift to SF Ballet using the link below or text SFB to 56512.

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Your support will help us continue to create and will apply towards membership benefits with special behind-the-scenes opportunities. Visit sfballet.org/membership to explore all the benefits.

Dance of Dreams composite art // © San Francisco Ballet

All involved in Dance of Dreams were so excited to be a part of the project and have the opportunity to create again. They even mused about a Dance of Dreams II, filmed indoors with all the choreography as originally planned! Stay tuned.

Header Image: Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira shooting Millepied’s Dance of Dreams // © San Francisco Ballet