The story behind “Movie”, a 1950s style dance film created in Cape Town, South Africa, will prove to you that it is possible to start where you are, and use what you have, to create beautiful Screendance (or other dance pieces) even without a budget, and you’ll be surprised and inspired by the way that Michelle from The Hideout Collective has forged her professional dance and business career.
Any readers who have been around for a while will know that I believe strongly in creating one’s own path. In dance we’re taught that a professional career is limited to either performing in a company or teaching- but the truth is that there are countless options for a career in dance, and you can create a bespoke career that incorporates any of your interests and goals. What’s more, you can start pursuing projects you’re passionate about with whatever resources are available to you right now. Today’s post is a wonderful example of just that. I reviewed The Hideout Collective’s captivating dance film, “Movie”, and I managed to catch up with co-Creative Director and dancer Michelle about her experience creating this project. We also discussed Michelle’s unique career, combining professional dance with The Hideout Collective, a creative content business which offers video and photography as well as concept development and consultation.
First of all, let’s talk about “Movie”.
“Movie” is a short narrative dance film with a 1950s spirit, shot in scenic Cape Town, South Africa. The film opens with a couple enduring a heartfelt farewell, before we seem to travel back through their memories, witnessing a series of moments in sunny days spent together. Besides the awe-inspiring filming locations, the piece is notable for its beautiful vintage styling and outstanding cinematic quality.
The very opening scene of the film sets the tone, offering a striking image of the couple framed and silhouetted in a doorway, locked in an embrace against a backdrop of sea and evening sky as the breeze tugs at their hair and clothes. The choreography opens with a quirky coffee shop duet, and then as we travel through the couple’s summer romance, we see some clear influences from the social dances of the era. The nostalgic and cinematic feel conjures images of the golden age of cinema, of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in the streets. The footage isn’t strictly selective enough for “Movie” to be considered a true period piece, with some giveaways such as cars and lights, but this feels like a long-lost love story transplanted into the modern world. It captures the feeling of nostalgia that we experience when remembering loves that have come and gone, the hope with which they begin, and the sense of loss that they can leave behind. These lost loves live in our memories like an echo of the past. This is a feeling that really lingers after watching “Movie”– a taste of the past in the present world.
I was very interested to talk to Michelle about her experience creating “Movie”, and the inspiration behind the project. “The biggest goal I have in creating work is that I want people to feel something when they experience it”, says Michelle. “I think the topic of loss and heartbreak is extremely relatable for most people.”
“”Movie” follows somewhat of a summer romance where two individuals meet and fall in love, only for him to leave and for her to be left standing alone”, she explains. “I think when we are confronted with a story similar to our own, or one that we can relate to, we are reminded of those moments in our lives where we too experienced loss or heartbreak”. Michelle expresses her hope that in watching the film, people might reflect on their own “what ifs” and accept what has come to pass, perhaps finding some sense of closure. “The film is completely open to interpretation”, she says. “It’s an individual experience and will be interpreted through the lens of the person’s history, relationships, emotional state and other factors. More than anything, I want people to feel love when watching the film. I want them to be reminded of the beautiful moments a relationship can hold, but that it’s okay if things didn’t work out. It’s okay to feel heartbroken, but there comes a time where you must find peace again.”
I asked Michelle about the process of making “Movie”, and about what sparked the desire to pursue this project. “As a dancer, I was naturally drawn to movement films, and it also didn’t hurt that they were more budget-friendly for passion projects”, she confesses. “Before “Movie”, many of the dance projects we’d shot consisted purely of choreography. A key component of any film for me is storytelling, and so “Movie” was born out of a desire to show dance artists how narrative can be incorporated into their work with the help of film, wardrobe, location etc. I also wanted to emphasise that not having a budget should never hold you back in creating work. Cape Town is filled with beautiful locations, and styling can also add huge production value. Knowing how to tell a story, gathering the right team and creating with purpose can go a long way. It’s about knowing how to work with what you’ve got and use it to its maximum capacity.”
The Hideout Collective has definitely succeeded in this area. The finished piece is so polished and visually arresting, with locations that powerfully transport the viewer, it’s difficult to believe that it was put together without a heady budget to match. When asked about this, Michelle responds; “I was particularly focused on finding beautiful locations because I knew I wanted the film to look like it had high production value. I wanted to showcase how something simple could still be beautiful, and how you could use natural surroundings to set a certain tone and assist the narrative”.
This ‘use what you have’ attitude is something to take note of for anyone who is considering making their own work, but perhaps finding themselves restricted by lack of resources. I wanted to know if Michelle had any other advice about creating this type of project. “I love bringing people together, it’s one of The Hideout Collective’s biggest focus areas. Every project has certain requirements or skills that need to be met and it’s so important to understand that every person on the project brings their own expertise to the table.” Michelle gives the advice to avoid thinking you have to do everything on your own- bring in creatives that specialise in certain areas, and define each person’s role clearly, leaving you free to focus where you’re most needed. She also says; “If you don’t know many creatives, ask around, do research, and pitch your ideas via email or meeting in person over a cup of coffee. It’s about building trust and relationships. If it’s not in your nature to manage multiple things at once, hire a producer that can assist you and potentially bring in the right people for the job”.
I am seriously impressed by the way Michelle has created a career that allows her to work as a professional dancer whilst also having a business that encompasses her other passions. Michelle came from humble beginnings in terms of dance training, simply taking recreational modern and ballet classes in her school hall, plus occasional workshops in other styles. Although she confesses she always harboured a dream to become a professional dancer, it was film that she chose to study initially, with the idea of directing later in life. “I come from a very classical background and when I moved to Cape Town to study film in 2015, I started training more in contemporary, a bit of ballet, jazz and even did some Horton technique”, says Michelle. “In the last two years of university, my dancing took a backseat while I focused on my degree. In 2019 I headed to New York City and completed a semester programme at Broadway Dance Centre with a focus on Contemporary. It was here where I was exposed to more street styles and decided that I would like to explore more commercial movement.” Michelle has continued her training in Cape Town, and says that she’s very intentional in training in various different styles to remain a versatile performer and to challenge herself, even doing an international programme at Danceworks in London.
“2020 would have been my first year as a freelance artist and unfortunately all my plans were thrown out the window with lockdown and the damage that followed”, says Michelle. “I wanted to build a community and a place for creatives to experiment and showcase their talents. I felt that I knew so many gifted people but they didn’t have the resources or support structure to produce their work. I initially started as a freelancer with dance videos and fashion films, together with some marketing and promotional work for companies, until I decided to establish the business. As much as the commercial work paid the bills, my heart was with more creative clients and projects. I love seeing someone’s vision come to life, and being able to create an environment in which people can grow and exceed their own expectations.”
When asked about how Michelle juggles professional dance work with The Hideout Collective, she is an advocate of balance, sometimes focusing more on film and photography, and other times focusing more on dance. “Towards the end of 2020 and throughout most of 2021, I focused largely on building The Hideout Collective, connecting with people and building a client base while freelancing in the film industry as a production assistant or photography assistant. I understood that once the business was a little more established, I could shift some of my focus to my dance career again. It took just over a year, but I have built the business up to a point that I’m happy with and capable of managing while still giving focus to my dance career.”
Day-to-day, Michelle manages her busy lifestyle by creating a routine and a set schedule, so that she can fit meetings and work in the gaps in her calendar and still achieve her business and dance goals. “As a freelance artist, work and castings can pop up at any given moment and one is sometimes forced to adjust one’s schedule. Having a set routine for the week wherein I can complete all my work and attend all my classes makes rescheduling much easier”, she explains. Michelle also professes the importance of incorporating plenty of downtime for mental wellbeing; “Find what works for you and build a lifestyle you enjoy and that will push you to be a better version of yourself”.
Michelle is living proof that you can have the career that you dream of, even if it’s initially hard to imagine how you might be able to fit your other passions in with dancing professionally, and even if you didn’t have a prestigious professional training background. I also think that “Movie” is a true example of the calibre of work that’s possible when you fully and creatively utilise the resources that are available to you. I hope that this conversation will have inspired you to not only go after those projects you’ve been thinking about, but also to realise that your career can look ANY way that you want it to. There really are no limits in dance- something that’s wonderful about dancers is that we tend to be extremely creative, and you can use that creativity to carve your own path, and to structure your own bespoke career.
You can watch Movie right here, and please do leave a comment telling me what you thought of it, as well as any thoughts on this interview!