Freedom to make, freedom to edit: Alana on dance film

[ED: Alana Stenning had a Curated Residency at QL2 in January 2016]

I started dancing with QL2 when I was 15 and danced in Quantum Leap, Hot to Trot and On Course as much as possible from 2010 until I left Canberra for tertiary dance study at the Adelaide College of the Arts in 2015.

“Coming back to QL2 is so important for me because it reminds me of where and why I started and what I love about dancing so much.”

I came back to Canberra to show a film in On Course in December 2015, and received a lot of really positive feedback. Ruth was telling us all that we would be able to use the space at QL2 over the break and that was something that really interested me. I was really keen to keep experimenting with film and work with the other returning Quantum Leapers. Oonagh [Slater], Ryan [Stone] and I have been dancing together for years so it just seemed like a really normal thing to be dancing with them again while I was back in Canberra for Christmas.

Alana Stenning at “On Course” , December 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

Alana Stenning at “On Course” , December 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

I find it much easier to make films with other people, rather than dance in them myself. This is for obvious reasons like getting a good look at framing and lighting and adjust as we film, so it saves a lot of time. Also because I often go in with a clear image of the aesthetic and that tends to overpower the movement in my mind. When I’m setting a movement instruction for what I’d like to film I already have a visualisation of what I want it to look like. I’ve found that limits me more often than it helps, so giving the idea to someone else and letting them explore it will give me movement that appeals to me more. Oonagh and Ryan had just come back from their first years at VCA and WAAPA respectively, so both brought a different style to what I see at my university, which also broadened the kind of movement I could have in my film.

I started with quite a mismatch of ideas that had a vague connection to each other in my mind. I worked with a lot of images and some text and the film was based on the kind of feeling that these things evoked in me. I didn’t go into the studio with a particularly huge or detailed plan, just a few vague ideas that I was interested in playing around with. Of course, there’s always the niggling worry in the back of your mind that what you’ve got to work with isn’t enough, but often I’ve found that no amount of planning can really combat that. The nature of working collaboratively is to let go of some of the control you have over your creative ideas, and there’s no way of telling how that’s going to turn out. I have a lot of trust in Ryan and Oonagh and with the luxury of so much space for such a long unbroken amount of time that it was easy to just let things flow and rely on discussion and task work to create. It’s not very often that I come in without a very clear overarching concept though and it was nice this time to sit back and let that evolve as the filming took place.

We worked a lot with the ideas of magnets and polarities; lots of the movement and improvisation was based on push and pull. A lot of the gestural movement with the hands was based on photos. Some of the movement was improvised and other movement was set and filmed a few times from different angles. We ended up with a few hours of footage, which was a little bit overwhelming at first, but I think it’s always better to have more rather than less. There was so much wonderful material that the hardest part has definitely been narrowing it down.

This was probably the slowest editing process I’ve ever had with a film. Usually I edit it straight away and just get totally consumed with it until I have a product that I’m happy with. This time I was much slower and did it in parts. I’m still not entirely sure that I wont continue to edit and change things around now.

I don’t have any immediate plans for this film, it’s just nice to be making and learning things as I go. The more filming I do the more I learn about it and that’s what really matters to me at this stage. This was a very self-directed project. It was nice to have the freedom to make something without having to please anyone or tick off the boxes you need to do well when being assessed at university. I feel like this film is probably more of a work in progress and it would be nice to show it to a few people for feedback and continue to develop on it and the idea’s behind it.

It’s really comforting in such a precarious industry to have somewhere that you’re able to come home to. Coming back to QL2 is so important for me because it reminds me of where and why I started and what I love about dancing so much. Having such open access to the resources QL2 provides is so important and the more I venture into the wide world of dance the more I realise how rare it is.