As a performer, Ela Olarte knows her way around a concert stage, and not just as a company member with Cocodāco Dance Project. For example, she was featured twice as a soloist in Thodos Dance Chicago’s widely admired New Dances performances last summer — in Alex Gordon’s premiere of Amour Dévorant, and in Jessica Miller Tomlinson’s Berseluk-Beluk, which she’ll reprise this March at Midwest Rad Fest. Olarte is also becoming more and more noticed as a choreographer for the concert stage, with Cocodāco performing the premier of her new work Suffice in their most recent concert series.
In Benign, Olarte does a lot of the things that nobody seems to be able to do in dance film. Benign looks like dance and feels like a dance concert …
In 2017 though, Ela Olarte took her vision of dance to a different stage. It began in March, when she released a dance film of a meticulously-imagined trio called Shift. That was followed only months later by her latest work, Benign.
In Benign, Olarte does a lot of the things that nobody seems to be able to do in dance film. Benign looks like dance and feels like a dance concert, except that with Stephen Tuplin’s precise but expansive camera work, Olarte can show you more dance than you could see on a stage. Featuring a flawless and focused commitment from the cast of six dancers (Michael Artrip, Savannah Dunn, Alex J. Gordon, Kameron Johnson, Tiffany Krause and Ellen Vierse), Benign is a six minute demonstration both of what it is that can make choreography so engaging, and of how to put that in a film.
We asked Ela to tell us a little about her work, and to share some of her thoughts about the promising new world of Dance Cinema. Here’s what she told us —
Johnny Nevin: You’ve been on stage many times as a dancer, and quite often as a soloist. More recently, you’ve also brought your work as a choreographer to the concert stage, as with the premiere of Suffice at the recent Cocodāco Dance Project performance. So what was it that made you want to create your two recent works, Shift and Benign, not for the concert stage, but for film and video?
“I wanted the challenge of working with a slightly larger cast with the goal of being uninsulated and more deliberate in my movement choices and landscape…”
Ela Olarte: A year before dancing as a company member with Cocodāco, prior to starting the process of Shift, I was somewhat bored with my dance whereabouts, not hired, and had no future projects lined up. I knew that I wanted to create “something,” slowly build more connections, and most importantly add to my identity capital. The choice to create a dance film felt scalable with its anticipated environment compared to the potential outcomes (and disasters) of presenting work on a concert stage. Plus, I wanted people to actually see my work. The choice of creating on film allows potential audience members and myself to revisit an undisputed origin of my work even after the process is over, as I personally have difficulty gaining emotion or perspective from viewing dance videos that “used to be on stage”.
With Benign, my second film, I wanted the challenge of working with a slightly larger cast with the goal of being uninsulated and more deliberate in my movement choices and landscape. Another opportunity for growth nonetheless.
Johnny: Benign is an impressive work in many different ways. Are there any specific things about it that you would say you’re especially happy with — things about Benign that you feel turned out really well? Is there anything in your process that you can identify as the reason why those things did turn out so well?
Ela: I am happy with the dancing, its images, and how the dancing was captured by Steven [Editor and Cinematographer Stephen J. Tuplin of Echowhitefox Productions].There are a number of influences that I am sure contributed to the success of the project.
“… there’s something special when familiar and fresh energies come together in a room weekly for three months …”
One would be cast choice – a mix of old friends that I prefer to work with and new people that I casually stalked and Facebook messaged or randomly met in other dance settings. Aside from the obvious necessities of professionalism, openness, and talent when creating any work, there’s something special when familiar and fresh energies come together in a room, weekly for three months. Specifically, we almost over-rehearsed to get each section of the dance “intensely right”. When you know a video will be there as a reference to your dancing, completely available for anyone to see online flaws and all, and you committed to it, there’s a certain amount of tenacity and vulnerability that comes out of the performer.
Another influence that I think was important was being an observer, in several different ways. Like observing dancers’ strengths and vibes, and also observing other outside, very successful processes to apply to my own process. Also, watching rehearsal videos numerous times, where details that I may have missed in the studio quickly reveal themselves, and then later inform the next rehearsal’s objectives.
Finally, I think you have to balance a genuine openness to feedback from other friends and artists with being super picky and detail-oriented with what is yours.
PHOTOS – Scenes from Benign by Ela Olarte (All photos by Chloe Hamilton)
Here is Benign, with choreography by Ela Olarte, Editing and Cinematography by Stephen J. Tuplin of Echowhitefox Productions, and featuring the performances of Michael Artrip, Savannah Dunn, Alex J. Gordon, Kameron Johnson, Tiffany Krause and Ellen Vierse:
Choreography & Production: Ela Olarte
Dancers: Michael Artrip, Savannah Dunn, Alex J. Gordon, Kameron Johnson, Tiffany Krause, Ellen Vierse
Editing & Cinematography: Stephen J. Tuplin of Echowhitefox Productions