Following Creativity with Filmmaker T. M. Rives

Name: T. M. Rives

Title: Play Serious

Year: 2019

Film Programme: Documentaries

Can the spirit of play be captured and performed on stage? Is this an experiment that you should introduce at the most prestigious ballet company in the world? Alexander Ekman says yes. PLAY SERIOUS documents the groundbreaking Swedish choreographer and his creative team during the production process of his most recent full-length ballet, PLAY, at the renowned Paris Opera Ballet.

T. M. Rives is  a writer/photographer based in New York City. His collaboration with Alexander Ekman began with the creation of A Swan Lake at the Norwegian National Ballet, subject of the award-winning documentary Rare Birds (2015). A successful collaboration still moving and still creating. This year in our documentary programme we are showcasing two new works by this dynamic duo: Ekman’s Concise Guide to Natural Movement  a Dance Film SF commission and Play Serious, where Rives closely follows Ekman and his creative team working with one of the most prestigious ballet company in the world in the making of Play.

We reached out to T. M. Rives to gain some insights on the documentary.

What was the starting point for Play Serious?

Alexander Ekman had landed a full evening at the Garnier, and told me he wanted to make a piece where the dancers actually play onstage. Not a rehearsed version of “playing”, but rather the real thing: unrestrained, crazy, contagious. I thought that, win or lose, dropping that kind of energy on the most notoriously traditional house in the world would make for a good hour of film. The appeal was almost scientific and I approached the situation as an experiment as wel as a creation.

What issue did you run into in filming this documentary?

There’s a core difficulty in making a documentary film about dance (or any other performance art): the art has a flow and chronology; your film must have its own flow and chronology. You have to respect your subject but also defend your corner and the solution generally lies in having precise goals for the moment you’re working on – then it’s clear how to bend the material to it. The tension between the competing flows is in fact a resource: drawing the viewer into the piece and then shifting it to your own narrative adds a lot of power and can be tooled to propel the film.

What is the central theme of your film and how did you develop it?

Alex took on a huge task with Play. Many of the stresses were the kind that come with the ordinary grind of a large-scale creation. Others were deeper and specific to Alex. I wanted to show both kinds. In the making-of genre, the viewer is usually at some safe distance from creative anxieties, but in Play Serious (thanks to Alex’s willingness and comfort with my own process) you see how anxieties arise and get handled. I also wanted the flow of the film to express a playfulness, almost as if the subject was contagious. I gave myself license to roam outside the rehearsal room and examine other attitudes towards play and absorption.

What advice would you give other filmmakers in the field?

With small inexpensive cameras, you can free up a lot of storytelling. Great image quality is a commonplace now and I see a lot of room for powerful dance films that focus on situations as much as performances and that aren’t afraid to be a little ugly.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *