Dancing in the Woods with “Brume”

The cast of Brume from one of the final shots of the film.

Our interview with director and choreographer Mallory Rosenthal about the 360 experience, Brume, highlights the challenges of dancing in the rain.

We love talking about art and even more so when we can turn you on to something a little bit different than what we usually see. Welcome to Brume, the experimental dance film by Mallory Rosenthal and Jesse Rosenberg. As the film comes to Jaunt, we discussed with the filmmaker and choreographer what makes 360 video and virtual reality the best way to consume art, shooting in the rain, and the importance of mood music.

Where did the film’s concept come from?

Originally, we were interested in exploring a loose narrative of following a girl through an ominous landscape to a cult-like community. We wanted the viewer to feel as though they had stumbled into a situation where they were alien to the dancers, and therefore the object of curiosity. Being the outsider in a place where you can’t communicate because of a language disparity (dance being the foreign language) is something we wanted the viewer to experience.

Mallory, you choreographed the film yourself. How long have you been a choreographer and where did you find your inspiration in assessing the movement for this experience?

I have been making dance work since I was about 14 years old. After getting my BFA, I relocated to New York to start a dance company. Since then I’ve been working to push the boundaries of the spaces dance can
inhabit by making interdisciplinary work and collaborating with artists in other fields.

For the movement vocabulary for this project, I worked collaboratively with the dancers and my former artistic partner, Brendan Duggan. We created a series of interactions with the gravity being the center of the room-
which is where the camera would be placed for the majority of the scenes. The duets you see through the middle sections of the film resulted from the improvisation prompt to move in a direct line between the camera
and the edge of the room, and to be the first one to get to the camera and try to stop your partner from arriving there first. We then crafted these improvisations into choreographed phrases. This resulted in the
series of duets in the open field and the waterfall scene. The dancers were directed to get very close to the camera whenever possible, and look the camera “in the eyes” to make it feel watched at any given
opportunity. We also used a lot of high velocity running from far distances in order to make the viewer feel disoriented and out of place.

The loft where the film begins

The locations were very different — a brick room, a forest, and the mouth of a waterfall. How did you select each one of these?

We wanted the disparity between the two main locations to feel jarring- so having a man-made city location contrasted with a forest felt like a natural decision. We wanted the viewer to feel as though they had gone on
a real journey, even though the experience is only a few minutes long. The studio is actually a place where we often rehearse, so to us it felt like going from the comfort of home to the strangeness of a pathless forest. We
wanted the viewer to lose their sense of safety.

Mood, music and sound have a lot of importance in this film. How did you decide the curation of those elements?

We were hoping visually for a bleak scene to set the mood, so having the intense fog and rain that day was a real stroke of good fortune. In terms of the music and sound, I collaborate with the composer, Hannah Epperson, on most of my projects. She has a highly intuitive sense for creating sound for dance and film. In addition to the more atmospheric/electronic sound she created for this film, she is also a singer and violinist. Initially we had discussed having her work with siren-like melodies to highlight the eerie, hair-raising mood surrounding the project, but after we filmed she felt (and we agreed) that something with a bit more intensity and drive would make the viewer’s heart race a little more. Hannah is extremely gifted at creating soundscapes that texturize atmosphere and the narrative. Collaborating with her is always a dream.

The dancers crowd around the rig and look the camera “in the eye” during filming

360 video and virtual reality seem to be a natural fit for a dance film like this. How did this medium bring out the essence of the film?

Normally when you watch a 2D film project there is a wall between you and the story. Though I find it completely unnerving, this is a more personal way to experience a piece of art. For this project, my co-director, Jesse, approached me asking if I’d be interested in working with him on a VR dance piece, and I thought it presented an exciting challenge. It would be a unique way to drop the viewer directly into a dance piece to have the experience of being inside of a movement narrative. I was mostly focused on making the viewer feel seen. VR is also unique in that you go through the experience alone. You don’t have anyone watching with you to see if you’re laughing when they laugh, or if you’re crying when they cry. You have nobody to hold your hand through it. I find that viewing art alone — going to movies, museums, theater, etc. — is a wildly important experience for anyone. So for me, this was an opportunity to make someone feel like they are interacting with the performers themselves in an honest, visceral, and extremely personal way.

For more immersive content and VR news, check out the Jaunt Blog.