Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Opus Jazz Dance Off...Results.

The votes have been tallied, the count has been triple checked, and the winners of the Opus Jazz Dance-Off are........Robbie Fairchild and Amar Ramasar! It was such a close race, ending with a score of 78 to 74. Congratulations to both teams, especially our winners.
How will we ever forget the shock of Amar splitting his jeans and not missing a beat, or the sight of Rebecca wiping fake cake crumbs from her mouth? Did Robbie really just pretend to smoke a cigarette and ash it on the stage? And why is Craig suddenly a tranny- zombie, I thought they were cats? These dances will haunt our souls forever. This is the legacy of the Dance-Off.

One Bad Ass Moment

videoOver the course of filming Opus Jazz, I witnessed some pretty crazy moments. Most could only truly be appreciated by other dancers (man on man finger pirouettes anyone?) but one occurrence should amaze everyone. On one of the last days of filming, we were wrapping up a scene in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and getting ready to head for the next shooting location, my new favorite place on Earth, the Imlay Building in Red Hook. We were running behind schedule and the next shot required the sunset in the background. And wouldn't you know it, the Sun was tired and she was heading to bed. As we all packed in to our Opus Jazz-mobiles, a police cruiser pulled up in front of us and with a wave of the officers hand we began our motorcade. The Fuz lead us up one way streets, through red lights and over sidewalks to get around traffic. No one was sure just how this police escort came to be, but if there's one thing you learn fast growing up in NYC, it's don't question the NYPD.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vote Vote Vote

One more day to vote in the Opus Jazz Dance-Off. It's a close race, the stakes are high. Vote Now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Some Random Photos

Executive Producer Sean Suozzi (never thought I'd write that)
After dancing the fugue about 100,000 times, Austin begins to fade. But once that camera starts rolling, that boy can get his leg up.
Make-Up artist and heart melter, Jordan, puts the finishing touches on an already beautiful Amanda Hankes Stodola.
The gang awaits hair and make-up.
Everyone in this picture is thinking the same thing. 'Check the gate!'

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Opus Jazz Dance Off. Team 2

videoAnd here's Team 2. You have until September 26th to vote. Vote Now!

The Opus Jazz Dance-Off. Team 1

videoHere it is. Vote for your favorite in the comments section below the post. Voting will continue until Saturday, September 26th. Vote as many times as you want. Thanks

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Week 4 Day 3

Tomorrow is most of the casts' last day of shooting. I hope that they all have enjoyed this experience as much as I have. One day, and I feel it's coming soon for me at least, we will all pine for the days when we could jump up at a moments notice and dance our asses off, and it is our benefit that we will be immortalized dancing on film.
Getting to work with such incredibly talented people for the past month has been so inspiring. Do I know how to work a movie camera? No. Do I know how to set up a lighting rig? No. Do I know how to make sure 20 dancers get through hair and make-up in time for the first shot of the morning? No. Do I know how to feed 100 plus people for 12 hours straight? Maybe. Everyone would get a can of Pringles at 7am and be told to shut up.
But seriously, I'm completely grateful to be part this project. Even coming home tonight with splinters in my ass, literally, IN MY ASS, I can not wait to get back on set tomorrow morning. Chaz, get that french toast ready.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 4 Day 2

Bitch Moan Bitch Moan....I have splinters in my ass. Are they worse than lead paint chips in my nose? I guess I really don't care. Today was crazy exhausting. This movement has much longer shots than the previous sections so there are many more rehearsals for the camera which requires us to dance and dance and dance. Keeping energy and moral up is top priority right now but I'm pretty sure that we have the solution. We Are Opus Jazz will soon present 'The Opus Jazz Dance Off'. Later this week I'll post original dances created by cast members, then it's up to you to vote for your favorite dance in the comments section. Please stay tuned and vote.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Last Week Begins

I'm actually sad to be in the last week of shooting Opus Jazz. It has been an enlightening challenge as a dancer, a co-worker and person. I have been going through an amazing journey with many friends and strangers. Strangers that I now can call friends.
Yesterday we had our final rehearsal/ costume fitting. I found it somewhat sad, at least for me. I don't know how much longer, or even if, I'll ever dance this ballet on stage again, and it has been great to be shown again just how incredible this ballet is. Being 'inside' of a ballet for so long can glaze your eyes over, making it harder and harder to see what the ballet is like to be seen from the outside. But throughout the filming process I have seen clips of what has been shot already, and it has given me an even deeper appreciation for this ballet. It makes the ballet look exactly how I feel when I'm dancing it.
This month has been grueling. My brain feels fried. My body feels on the brink of total collapse, but I don't want this to end yet. It has been great to experience something so new. To get to watch so many people work with such invested energy and talent on the transformation of this ballet to film has been amazingly humbling. It is a given that any dancer with half a brain loves and respects the gifts that Jerome Robbins left for us, but to have these gifts, and to share them with film directors, editors, camera operators, lighting designers, key grips, gaffers, make-up artists and craft service cooks (hell yeah Chaz), and countless others, is the best aspect of making Opus Jazz the Movie.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said "yes" to Ellen and Sean, but I would be kicking myself in the ass for the rest of my life if I had said "no".

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Love This Project

One of the greatest things about being part of this film is getting to see Robbins through someone else’s eyes. Neither Henry nor Jodi (the directors) were ever dancers, and they have had no experiences with the Jerome Robbins way of dancing aside from coming to NYCB to watch. So needless to say I was looking forward to see their take on Opus Jazz.

For us it’s easy to describe dancing in a Robbins’ ballets in the same old ways. You “perform” less, you share the “communal feel”, and you use the “less is more” approach. But those ways of describing dancing Jerry’s ballets are selling the man short. Yes, his ballets are some of the best to dance, but the real benefit is how his ballets make you feel as a person, not just as a dancer, as a person. His works force you to examine why you dance, why you interact with certain things in life, why you feel certain things. People talk a lot about how Jerry was a task master and how he’d break you down if you didn’t give your all. But even though I never got the chance to work with him directly, I can say with out a doubt that Jerry was an extremely cool guy.

He wasn’t a kid when he made Opus Jazz, and yet he didn’t set Opus Jazz to be “lived” in his own adolescent days as others probably would have, but he captures the essence of all youth in angst. A spirit that gets past down through the ages, urging the young to rebel, explore themselves, explore others and don’t trust anything but yourself.

I find it amazing to watch Henry and Jodi find all of the hidden elements to this ballet. They don’t know the names of steps or the reason that one step comes after another, but they completely understand the reason of the ballet.

Having someone take a ballet that you know inside and out, having had already come up with your own inner story for it and then they give you theirs, seems like it would be a hindrance, but I actually find it quite liberating. We’ve all been able to take our own created stage characters and place them perfectly into Henry and Jodi’s world that they are creating around us. It feels like home. It feels right. I keep expecting to look up and see Jerry standing next to the camera with an old fashioned megaphone and a smile across his face. I think he would have loved this. To see a ballet filmed in truth. To see it danced with love.

Craig Hall Master Class

videoMornings always start slow on set, so out of a necessity to get warmed up and kill boredom, Ballet Super Star Craig Hall has begun teaching warm up classes for the cast. Craig has come up with an amazing jazz dance for Rebecca, Gretchen and Amar that the whole cast later performed for the neighborhood. This is one of the rehearsals for it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wrapped!

We just wrapped on day two of 'Entrances'. We actually got through all of it. Twenty four different camera angles! I may be off, but I'm sure it was more if I am wrong.
'Entrances' has such a smokey, sexy feeling and having the hazy sun in your eyes while dancing gave us all a little extra bump on the sex factor.
It's so frustrating to not get to see how things look as they go, but everyone who does get to watch the monitor is excited by how well this ballet looks on screen. How has this not been done before? It seems a given that this ballet gets shot for a film. I guess better late than never. Get your minds ready, they will soon be blown.

Lunch Break at the Pool


We are finally on our lunch break. Given how many handfuls of M&Ms I've thrown back this morning, I'm amazed that I had room for pulled pork and baked ziti. The craft service here is unbelievable. We get any kind of breakfast sandwich in the morning, there is a never ending stream of coffee (hot and iced), tons of snacks and drinks, and surprisingly no one looks at us like we're pigs. I admit that I do get a little embarrassed while running to set with a candy bar dangling from my mouth, but hey, if I needs my sugar, I needs my sugar.
We're trying really hard to get 'Entrances' shot today since the forecast for tomorrow seems rainy. It feels like we have a load still to cover and I hope that we can keep our energy up until the last shot. As long as Craig keeps us as entertained as he has so far I'm sure we'll be fine.

The Pool.

The Crew sets up the camera to film 'Entrances'.

Robbie passed out from apparently drinking way too much water.
Our pool/dance floor/napping area/tanning bed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 2 'Entrances' McCarren Pool

This morning, Opus Jazz Super Star, NYCB Soloist Dancer, Mr. Craig Hall lead the cast in a 6:30 am free form movement class, deep within the McCarren pool. No one got injured today. Coincidence?

Monday, September 7, 2009

'Statics' Last Day.

Amar practices hitting his mark for after the slides. This will be his glamour shot. Get your curry popcorn ready.
Sun Rise or Sun Set. I don't remember.
Gina and Andy work through the Pas de Deux with Cobra the Steady-Cam operator before sun down. Cobra would have been a great dancer.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Slayed the Dragon. Her Name Was Imlay.


Week 2 is over. Why are there 7 days in a week? My body was crying by day 2.
Did I mention that the filming suffered a set back? Well, after 2 day of shooting 'Statics' at Imlay, we were evicted and told that the building was condemned. It was a crushing blow to the entire project. It had taken so much work to schedule each week of shooting around the cast members many other obligations, and it seemed likely that Opus Jazz would be defeated.
Ellen and Sean pulled every string and used every connection that they had to fight the eviction. This was the perfect location for 'Statics' and we had already done so much work that would be lost. But we forged ahead and filmed some of the non-dancing, or Interludes, at other locations while many great people fought to get us back into Imlay for our remaining 2 days of shooting.
On Thursday, just as we wrapped on filming 'Improvisations' we all got word that we were let back into Imlay. We had Friday and an extra workday on Saturday to finish shooting. We were all thrilled that we weren't going to lose all of the amazing shots so far, but then it hit us, we had to go back to Imlay.
I didn't want Imlay to be condemned, but I was dreading dancing there again. To call in hazardous would be the understatement of the decade. It will be the craziest place ever danced in. Seriously.
When we perform Opus Jazz with NYCB, it doesn't require much of a warm up. It is social dancing without the normal ballet technical demands. The opening section gets you lose enough to get through the rest of the ballet. 'Statics' is the only section that calls for full force, "balls to the wall", "give every thing you've got", kind of energy. So it was only fitting that we shot it in an abandoned warehouse with lead paint chips on the ground, an uneven dirt encrusted cement floor, and ceilings with pigeons stooped, with a penchant for pooping right where you had to lie down mind you.
I have never been so filthy in my life. I've been dirty. I was once a little boy with a love of dirt and fire. I have swam in muddy streams and set myself on fire. None of which came close to the level of filth that I came home covered in each morning. ( I did mention that these were overnight shoots that went from sundown until 5:30 am right?) If you've never spent all night dancing in a condemned warehouse with some of the craziest male dancers in the world...don't.
In 2 days we did manage to film the entire section. We all hurt. We all wanted to cry, bitch, moan, kill Sean and just take a shower. But somehow we didn't. Well we did take a shower, or at least I did, I can't speak for everyone else.
Sometimes a crazy experience is good for you. It challenges you in ways that you assumed would break you. And when they don't, you emerge stronger, wiser, and sometimes covered in lead paint chips.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Best Directors' Quote Ever

"It's not morning time, it's 'Dance O' Clock'". -Jody Lee Lipes

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Today is our last day of shooting 'Improvisations'. There is a rumor that we might even get done early today, but we've all heard that rumor countless times at NYCB and so we are not putting too much stock in it. The past few days have been exhausting for all of us. It has been early mornings and painful nights, but we're all staying in relatively good spirits.
It's a strange new way of working for all of us. We are so use to having instant gratification in a dance studio where you can see in the mirror exactly what things look like, but now we have to give our trust to the directors and believe in what they want. Everything will come down to editing. We give our best each take and hope that when the shots are put together that we are happy with what we see.

The Last Day of 'Improvisations'

Rebecca and Robbie get ready for their close up.
The production headquarters, formerly the high school health room.
Jordan applies a "Level 3" sweat spray to Brittney's face.

A list of phrases heard on set…

  1. All In (term for when everyone is back to work)
  2. Going Big (performing with full energy)
  3. Check the Gate (inspecting the camera shutter for dust and hair)
  4. Counting to Ten (taking time to think over a big decision)
  5. 10 1 (taking a break to pee)
  6. 10 2 (taking a break to poop)
  7. Talent (any one in front of the camera)
  8. Vanity Check (calling the make-up department to touch up the talent)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We Are Opus Jazz Presents: Robbie Fairchild's, Opus Jazzercise Part 3 Featuring MC Baby and The Wipes

video

Improvisations Day One

Yesterday we plowed through almost all of ‘Improvisations’. Who would have thought that a movement called ‘Improvisations’ would take so much planning? This was most of the casts’ first day of filming and I imagine that it may have come as a shock to them how tiring it can be. Trying to manage energy is draining. If I sit down during this break, I will have to get back up off the floor, which expends more energy than having just stayed standing during the break. But if I stay standing, my feet will be killing me by the time we start shooting again. What do you do? I’ll tell you. Drink coffee.

I have drunk more coffee these two weeks than I have during my whole life so far. It has replaced my blood.

To me it is really important to stay focused and positive on set. It is easy to jump on the bitch wagon and drag everyone behind. Yes this process is beyond tedious and we don’t have a clear idea of how things look on camera, but when this is over and we’re all immortalized on film we’ll be grateful for these long shoots making sure we look hot.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Coney Island Baby





Interlude Filming.

video
This location was a ton of fun. Everyone from the neighborhood came out to watch and to hopefully get in to a shot.

And We're Back.

So I took a few days off from writing due to a lack of coherent thoughts from lack of sleep, and due to some set backs in filming. I don't have permission to discuss what caused these set backs, nor do I want to jinks the possible gains made to fix them. In time I'm sure I will share with all of you the ins and out of what has gone in to making this movie.
But I've learned something from this mysterious set back. It was easy to see that everyone involved with putting this movie together was invested in their part. Like all professional workers, they are putting their all in to their work. But you can also bust you ass working on something that you don't care about. I have danced in ballets that wore me out but which I had no real attachment to. It's the least enjoyable part of my job, but it happens. When I came to work on Wednesday afternoon, and everyone was learning about what was temporarily screwing us, you could feel the pain in everyone that we weren't going to pick up that evening where we left off the early morning before. I can tell that everyone is in this project wholeheartedly. I never would have thought that production members would give a shit about seeing this ballet come to life on film, I thought this was just another job for them, but now I know that we are all making this, that it's not just us dancin' around the city in front of a camera. Everyone is giving the best of their craft and in the end this movie is going to fucking rock.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We Are Opus Jazz Presents: Robbie Fairchild's, Opus Jazzercise Part 2 Featuring MC Baby and The Wipes

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After having been wiped down a million times with Baby Wipes by our make-up and hair stylists, Jordan and Bridget, I began to get stir-crazy and began singing what would become the Baby Wipe Song. With a fantastic little dance by MC Baby and The Wipes, we shot this video. Is is what happens when you start to loose it around 3:30 am. Enjoy.

Day 2 'Statics'

Yesterday. Wow. Yesterday was pretty unforgettable. Yet I don't remember much right now. Why? Well, my brain is fried. Our call time was 4:15 pm, not too bad, what time did I finally reach my bed?, 7:30 am. No, I'm not complaining, but it was an experience that might be hard to convey well.
After getting on set we had a rehearsal with the steady-cam operator named Cobra. I was immediately jealous of his bad ass nickname. At what age do you have to insist on being called 'Cobra' for it to actually stick? I've been trying to get my friends to call me 'Porkchop' for years, to no avail. But that's besides the point.
Anyways, we went through most of 'Statics' with Cobra, Jody, Henry and Aaron, and sort of mapped out the camera movements and then we went off to make-up to get ready to shoot when it reached sundown. And then just like she always does, the Sun went down, and the filming began.
I would be lying if I said that it was easy and painless, but we all could tell that it was looking awesome (lame vocabulary word, I know) and that made it easy to keep our energies up. It's amazing how adding a new variable to a dance that you have performed over and over for years, can miraculously make it utterly enjoyable again.
I don't know how many times we filmed the opening minute of 'Statics', but it didn't seem all that bad. After every take we were offered water and Advil, and we'd get a loving rub down with baby wipes (more on that later) since the floor has a good half inch of good old Red Hook dirt covering it. In a matter of seconds we would transform ourselves from cool looking youths to coal miners from West Virginia. My fingers are still wrapped in a black dirt that would make a manicurist cry.
I'm thinking tonight might be a little easier since I now know what it feels like to dance at 5 in the morning and I won't as shocked when my brain starts to play games with me and reality and dreaming begin to merge.
All in all, I imagine that Jerome Robbins is looking down on us with a gigantic smile. Grinning up a storm as he watches his ballet transformed in such a way and to see a bunch of dancers busting their asses on the hard concrete, over and over again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Real Deal. Day One.

2 am, View of Lady Liberty from the set. We both need to lay down soon.
Gina tries on one of what seemed to be a million different tank tops. All in the search of sexiness.

The make-up and hair station.

Yesterday I arrived in Red Hook at 3:15 pm for a final costume fitting and to have my first day of filming. I was picked up at the subway station by a large white van marked, "Opus Jazz Film". Being driven through Brooklyn, I began to get really excited, this is finally going to happen. I have marked down days in my calendar years earlier for this experience, and those dates have come and gone. Now I was about to actually get in front of that camera and help make what I believe will become an extraordinary dance film.
I was completely unprepared for the bombardment of crew members bustling around the Imlay Building, where 'Statics' will be filmed, dragging cables, installing lighting rigs, moving god knows what from here to there.
At the test shoot last week there were maybe ten crew members there, and I naively thought that that would be about all. I had seen photos from when 'Passage for Two', the fourth movement, was filmed on NYC's Highline and I don't remember seeing the amount of crew there like I did here. I am positive that there are towns out west with populations much lower than the city that had come to live in the Imlay Building.
After settling in and meeting the more important (to me) crew members, I finalized some costumes, got a quick hair trim and had some make up applied to a few zits. I love how all make up and hair stylist have what seems to me mandatory tattoos. I love tattoos and there's nothing better to stare at while someone is trying to cover up the nastiness on your face.
So after I was dressed and made up, I waited.
I don't mind waiting, that's what most of life is. I know that everyone is moving along as fast as they can, so why get annoyed? But the only bad thing about waiting, is thinking. Am I going to look stupid on camera. I'm not an actor. Can I pull this off? Thinking is not all that it's cracked up to be. You can do a lot of damage with just your brain and some free time.
Luckily things eventually went well. I didn't fall off my bike. I managed to stay in frame, and I'm presently full of fantastic craft service food.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Last Day of Rehearsal



Today we all gathered at our Rose Building studios to finish rehearsing Opus Jazz. Once again we were joined by former Opus Jazz dancer turned ballet master, Eddie Verso, to polish up the ballet.
It's great to see things coming together finally. I have been in this ballet since N.Y.C.B. had its' premiere of it back in 2005 and over the years the cast has changed many times. Some of these rehearsals can be tedious since some of us have learned these dances long ago and now we are re-teaching things to some new dancers. But it is still valuable to tighten up what you already know and get things looking even better for filming.
Cast changes to a ballet that you have danced for a long time can normally go by unnoticed. One day you may look to your left and see a different dancer, but the dance still stays the same and you don't really think twice. Opus Jazz it not one of those ballets. When a new member joins the cast the ballet changes. We are not blank dancers filling a costume that fits, nor are we dancers playing a character from a story that will never change. We are playing ourselves. This is not a usual occurrence in the ballet world. We are use to either being the paint on a choreographers' canvas, or playing a role in a story. Now, a different cast member can seem foreign and a little confusing at first. Almost like initiating a new gang member, it takes some time for a new cast member to truly fit in and become accepted. I think today we reached that point, or are close enough to go forward.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Test Shoot for 'Statics"

Our first day on set. What to expect? We'd seen pictures of possible locations, but now Gina and I were to be the first members of the cast to go out and test one out.
'Statics' is the 2nd movement of Opus Jazz, and without a doubt, the darkest and sexiest. One can view it as a scene where a girl enters the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe it's about a girl who is just asking for trouble and in the end gets it. Never the less, this movement is filled with sexual tension, overt sexuality and violence. It is fantastic.
So Gina, the sexy little spitfire in 'Statics', and I went to test out lighting and spacing. The location is enormous and rather scary. Open elevator shafts, abandoned stairways, broken glass, walls falling in...all I can think is "Lets dance!"
After waiting for lights to be hung and cameras to be set up, we try to place some important shots so that things move quickly when everyone is here next week. One would think that dancing on stage at Lincoln Center for 11 years would make you immune to being watched, but standing with a giant camera two feet in front of my face made me hyper aware of everything I did. They weren't even rolling, but I kept thinking, 'How does my hair look?, are my eyes crossed?, do I have food in my teeth?". I'm sure I'll get use to it, but this first day was a wake up call to what we're all in for.
And I frankly can't wait.
video

Thursday, August 20, 2009

At The Starting Gate

After years of planning, fundraising and more planning, New York Export: Opus Jazz, is about to begin filming. It is easy to declare that any project is a "labor of love", but since 2005, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi have been tirelessly planning to turn this monumental ballet by Jerome Robbins in to a film.
Way back in 2005, we all began learning this ballet from scratch. Countless hours were spent learning the dance styles of the 1950's. We immediately sunk our teeth into the dark, sexy, rebellious undercurrents of each step we danced. Under the watchful eyes of our ballet master, Eddie Verso, we slowly became the angst filled youths of Opus Jazz.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, Ellen and Sean were making plans to update this ballet.
Why not dance this ballet in the streets and buildings that it belongs? Why not dance this ballet in the clothes of our time? Why not take a daring leap out of the 1950s and make this ballet ours, just as the original cast did decades earlier?
Now, years later, that is just what we are doing. Soon the world will see some of the world's greatest dancers take an amazing ballet and set it where it has always belonged, deep in the grit of New York City, ensconced in its dirt, its sweat and its never ending energy and rhythm.