Mark Nelson’s ‘A Place About 50 Miles West Of Nowhere’ is a beautiful experimental exploration of life in New York City through an abstract expressionist and surreal lens. The film is gorgeously layered with images from the city, allegory and poetic observations and musings narrated by actress and producer Andromeda Godrey.
Alongside being a delight for the senses, ‘A Place About 50 Miles West Of Nowhere’ includes sections of ethereal and expressive dance which work in conjunction with the film’s delicately crafted score and reflect the musings and analysis of the film itself. These are strategically balanced and layered within the images we see on screen and add a wholly unique element to the production.
Ahead of the film’s premiere on the 30th of March at Fabrica Gallery Brighton I spoke to Annie Waller who choreographed the movements for dancer Georgia Poole. Annie, founder and director of community dance initiative Latitude Dance brought her background in contemporary dance, focussed on African and Caribbean People’s Dance, and worked with classically trained Georgia to create the mesmerising choreography featured in the film.
Can you talk us through the initial stages of preparation after you were approached by Mark to collaborate with him on the film.
Annie Waller: Georgia and I sat down together and listened to the music he had created. For me, music is a really important starting point for choreographing a piece and something from which I draw a lot of inspiration. We then looked through a book of images Mark had put together from a previous trip to New York and he talked me through the starting points for him, based in abstract expressionism. Mark then spoke about his inspirations which started to build a picture for his vision for the film and what it was that he wanted from the choreography. He followed up by then sending me some images which I shared with Georgia for our rehearsals so the images, music and Mark’s influences all drew together for inspiration.
What were some of the specific images and pieces of music you worked from?
AW: We were working towards building a three part piece. Mark wanted the first section to be working around internalising grief and loss and what that meant to me and how I would portray that in the movement. There weren’t as many images for that piece but the music brought a clearer picture. The melancholia and the sadness really came out the more we listened to it. There were a few climactic moments but overall it was very gentle. When musing on the choreography I was able to draw upon a lot of internalised movement which is how I feel when I’ve lost someone and is reflected in my movement.
When moving into the second part, Mark showed me some of his images from the 911 monument in New York. The Angel was such a strong and classic image for us to use as a starting point which Georgia was able to create beautiful lines around this.
The final piece is based on Greenwich Village and has a very different vibe from those before. Jazz is so prevalent in that part of New York and we wanted to work on a piece with a nod to African movement. Whilst I studied African Dance for 3 years at University we realise we are not African dancers, so I built the movement from a more surrealist point which I hope is echoing the idea of the film and the abstract expressionism. It is not what it seems but more an abstraction of that type of movement. The imagery we were focussed on and watching parts of the film that Mark had already created really helped with putting the movement together. Mark was keen for us to improvise quite a lot in our rehearsals which Georgia has been brilliant with. I have come with the starting points of the music, the imagery and some motifs which Georgia has taken in each piece and has been able to run with.
Georgia, you come from a very different and more classical school of dance, how does it feel working on a more abstract piece?
Georgia Poole: I much prefer it, I’m professionally trained in ballet and have followed that structure my whole life where you dance to fit each step, and this choreography is so different. I’m always better under pressure so I find improvisation easier than following a step by step routine. I think if Annie had choreographed 8 or 16 counts as a phrase or if I’m taught a choreography with 5,6,7,8 I’m able to do it, but it might be a bit harder and I won’t connect with it as much. Whereas if I’m given a stimulus and a starting point, images, or a collaboration such as that with Annie it flows. As I performed the last piece, I had four or five images in my head, almost like tick boxes, that I knew I wanted to get in there to portray the theme and the intent but then I was able to improvise around that. It also helps to be in a relaxed headspace and to just enjoy the movement, I’m not thinking about it so much I’m just enjoying what comes naturally in between each one of those tick boxes. Sometimes when I’m dancing I can really focus in on the music and play with it but sometimes this doesn’t come at all and I had to listen to this particular piece of music a couple of times. It is quite sporadic and as a dancer we are used to a melody we can hang on to but working with this Jazz has been different but very freeing. It’s a matter of constantly listening to what the music is doing and having the imagery in my head that Annie wants to portray and just hoping that it all falls together.
It looks incredible, how much rehearsing and planning do you two go through in preparation?
AW: Before today we’ve had about five hours which has been over two separate occasions, once with only Georgia and I and then the next time with Mark. Before the first rehearsal with Georgia, I spent half a day collating the images and I like to make boards with the feelings of each piece which filtered through to our first rehearsal. We know each other really well, which helps the process as I know what Georgia can do and it has been lovely to work with each other this way
Has this been an interesting project for both of you to work on?
AW: Absolutely, we both love choreography and I know even though Georgia is performing in this she loves that side of things which has been such a useful tool for me when we’ve gone through the rehearsal process because I can rely on her to push me to try a different way. Furthermore, our bodies are different so her body can be pushed in a different way to mine which has resulted in we’ve created together. It’s just been a really interesting process from start to finish.
This is such a collaborative project with different artists from distinct mediums which is the beauty of The Imaginary Project. It enables so much different work, with so many different people from different disciplines. In the film, there are so many juxtapositions of material that you can really take what you want from it. This reflects back to the choreography, some parts are more on the nose, they’re more obvious. However, some of it is definitely up for interpretation from whoever’s watching it, which is the beauty of art.