I’ve known Jamie for about four years. Formerly the membership director of Highways Performance Space, Jamie helped support our run of ‘The Sermons of John Bradley‘ at the space. After our show – which included a five-minute segment of choreography with no dialogue – Jamie commented that he liked the intensity and even brutality of the movement between the characters. I felt so grateful that someone noticed the quality we worked so hard to infuse into the piece. After that, I began supporting Jamie’s work in independent theatre when I could and noticed that his original choreography in “Mass Transit” focused more on the unique humanity of each of his dancers rather than a perfectionist aesthetic ideal. And yet, when required, Jamie could choreograph intricately beautiful moments. This was precisely the quality that made me feel he might be the right man to bring the moves to “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” So I brought him on to choreograph the initial workshop performance of the climatic scene of ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In.’ And he did an amazing job. Now, I’m just suffering a bit of Jamie-withdrawl since he’s moved to NYC to pursue his fortunes there, but check out our talk about dance and the movies.
Hunter: OK so not only is “Inside-Out, Outside-In” my first feature as a writer-director, it’s the first time I’m incorporating movement/dance choreography into a filmed piece. Any advice for the newbie?
Jamie: Make sure that you really allow the movement some time in full frame. It seems fast cuts are real popular in the flashy world of feature filmmaking and sometimes the dancing is lost. That and after seeing the Wim Wenders film “Pina,” it’s only a matter of time before we all should be presenting dance in 3D. Just sayin’.
Hunter: Well not sure our microbudget will stretch to 3D just yet. You mentioned that you love seeing people talk and dance on screen, that it’s satisfying to see people work something out through movement. Tell me about that. What are some of your favorite movies with choreography?
Jamie: Dance is designed to reveal simple truths. But if you’re able to add words and a linear scenario or context, you have so much more texture to experience as a viewer. If a couple is fighting while dancing a romantic waltz, there is so much more wit and intrigue to the juxtaposition, for example.
Hunter: I like that. What drew you to help out with ‘Inside-Out, Outside-In?’ Was there anything in the story there for you or did you just basically get roped in because we’re friends?
Jamie: Ha! A little of both – life is layered or something. I was curious as to whether or not I could deal with the challenge of a limited time-frame AND inform the meaning of the script within the script through simple gestures and movements. A bit of a puzzler but that was part of the fun.
Hunter: We had an issue where a straight actor became uncomfortable with dance with another man while workshopping this piece. It brought up a lot of feelings of anger and inadequacy in me because I felt I tried so hard to make him comfortable. Is this a common problem in the dance world? What is your suggestion for working with actors in the future on this? On the one hand, the character himself is straight and unsure about his feelings towards this other male so a little discomfort is interesting, but when does fear of intimacy or even homophobia damage a piece or prevent its full realization? Your thoughts?
Jamie: Most dancers, whether straight or not, are a.) around a lot of gay people because, let’s face it, we’re talking about dance. Cliches, just like a good joke, have some truth to them. b.) Dancers are notoriously underpaid and will usually do just about anything to continue “working” whether that means sidling up to another guy or not. I’ve had to grab a straight guy’s ass in performances before. Honestly I think it was a great chance for the guy to enjoy the flirtation without being totally accountable for it. A sort of, “well that’s what the director wanted” sort of thing. I’ve helped produce a gay-centric play before and the straight guys we’re totally cool about it. There should be some awareness going into it for them and if there isn’t, how can you really combat an actor’s denial during the courting process? They probably want to do what they can to get the part at that point. I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s given you a fire to push forward with the work and material to blog about the movie-making process. Hell, there’s a few press releases there. That’s valuable. In our quick digestion of drama, turmoil can be an asset. Its part of the story and intrigue of the film you’re making.
Hunter: The piece has an element of life-imitating-art-imitating-life. When you choreograph, how do you draw from your own experiences while still staying true to the situation at hand for the characters? In other words, when does your personal expression need to be channeled into something more-or-less objective versus when it is okay to allow your personal story/demons to be expressed in a very raw, direct way?
Jamie: Making whatever story arc I’m presenting complete is of top priority. This is not unlike making a film. Sometimes the best lines or scenes must be sacrificed for the greater good of the storytelling. I fear that being an “artist” has an inherent “self-indulgent” quality to it anyway so I have no intention of running away with the fact. I have to constantly ask myself if each moment serves the whole of the story. “Why would she do that here?” or “Who is this character like and what is my experience with that type of person?” “What do I believe is the truth of the scenario I’m creating?” The scenarios I’m compelled to create are somehow personally satisfying for me to present. It’s satisfying to include personal observations I have into the work but it all has to inform the story somehow. I hate going to shows where there is no sense of editing. I’m sensitive to that.
Hunter: You and I have talked a bit about valuing the exploration of the humanity of – for lack of a better word – “the little guy.” I’m thinking of your piece “Mass Transit” and also the webseries “Dumbass Filmmakers!” on which we collaborated. Tell me about “the little guy” in your own work and how it might apply to ‘I-O, O-I.’
Jamie: I am the little guy – at this juncture – so that P.O.V. surfaces in the work at times. I also find a certain innate hypocrisy in the entertainment world and strive to demystify things because of it. Ballerinas are flawless porcelain dolls, or rappers are so so cool or models so sexy yet at the end of the day, they still have body odor, cry themselves to sleep sometimes, or get insecure. That is humanity and our culture seems to deny or exaggerate/exploit it. My work is often aimed at the reveal of these truths under the illusion of the day-to-day performance we are all a part of. Usually, it’s done in a humorous way to help from being preachy.
Hunter: Now, you moved to NYC! And so…..we’ve had to pick up the pieces without you. How’s it going out there?
Jamie: Hectic! But good! Internship in the marketing department of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, performance of my satirical ballet “Bowel Movement” in a couple of weeks, just won a Martha Graham video contest and more to come. I’m really enjoying my time here. We shall see. Thanks for your time here!
To learn more about Jamie and his dancing and choreography, please visit www.jamiebenson.com. His latest piece – “Bowel Movement” – runs April 12th and 13th at the Triskelion Arts Aldous Theater in Brooklyn. Take a look at the trailer here.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink, an open source production company. Our filmmaking blog charts the progress of each of our projects. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).