A writer observes the making of her friend's movie: watching Moze Mossanen's Canadian dance film, Roxana, come to life.

Location: Ontario, Canada

A Canadian writer, story editor and teacher of film and theology. Looking to integrate spirituality and the arts in a celebration and love of visual and written language.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

quiet, inauspicious beginnings

On Monday afternoon, October 24th, Roxana kicked off in the rehearsal studios of 509 Parliament in Toronto. The 509 is headquarters for Danny Grossman Dance Theatre, whom Moze worked with in Dance for Modern Times. It is also home to the Canadian Children's Dance Theatre and other arts organizations. The next day, on Tuesday, I headed in to observe. The large sprawling converted movie palace is almost always running over with Cabbagetown youth of all colours and sizes, trimmed out in their dance gear. Not far from these studios is the home of the Toronto Dance Theatre, where I once studied myself as a young girl for years. When I walked past it later that night, quiet and darkly lit, I was thrown into a sea of memory. Up a steep and very narrow stairway... or in this case a short flight of steps to a large room in which I was always the youngest. I remembered the yoga salute to the sun that began each class.

On this, the second day of rehearsals for Roxana, choreographer Roberto Campanella worked with Greta Hodgkinson (Roxana) and Christopher Body (the Pawnbroker) on a sequence in which Roxana considers selling a cigarette case for rent. The pawnbroker is a regular at the burlesque where she dances nightly and is smitten. The dancers and choreographer all know each other well and this afternoon was diligent but low-stress, plenty of time for stretching and laughter. In fact, they were done soon enough that Roberto had time to continue working out a part of the dance that involves Roxana's friend Amy, who will be played by Sheila McCarthy, also in the scene. He and Je-An Selas, his assistant, walked through some possibilities.

Later, outside on Parliament, director and choreographer shared some ideas for the Chez Paree number that will open the movie and which is being rehearsed later in the week. The question is how to visually introduce the four dancers, including the main character, in the most visually expressive way and in keeping with the vision for the number. Will there be tables?, Roberto asked about the burlesque house set it will be shot on. Moze considered some possibilities and then said he wanted to think about it more. Meanwhile, little girls eagerly entered and departed around us, an unconscious picture of the flow of time. Any one of these young hoofers may one day work with one of the gifted men I was standing with!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Moze and his movies

Roxana is the brain child of my friend Moze Mossanen, an accomplished dance filmmaker who has been working in Canadian film and television for more than twenty years. His movies are unlike anything else in this country - they tell stories entirely through dance narratives. Often based on classic works, his adaptations look for the timeless themes of love and loss and finds a contemporary vision for them. In recent years he has made almost a film a year, usually shooting in the fall some time and airing in January. His last film, From Time to Time, a musical fantasy story of a woman's life set to the music of Joni Mitchell, was aired in 2004. Roxana will be broadcast on both CBC and Bravo, sometime in 2006.

Roxana is an adaptation of the Daniel Defoe novel, Lady Roxana, written in 1724 about a woman who finds herself improving her circumstances through accidental moral compromise that eventually becomes quite calculating. Updating the story, Moze has set his scenario in the Montreal and Ottawa of the Diefenbaker eras and this Roxana is a burlesque house dancer down on both money and luck. Through a series of associations with men she is willing to give herself to, she improves her situation until she has become something of a political courtesan.

The great beauty and utter uniqueness of Moze's work is always the dance narrative. The work (as he puts it) is "created through a blend of storytelling, gesture, dance and music, the score itself accentuating the entire length of this wordless film and combining sound effects, both synchronous and non-synchronous," to create a story that is both impressionistic and very specific to time and place. That pic, by the way, is from the last film, From Time to Time.

Welcome to the world of Roxana. Slowly over the next weeks and months, I will watch the movie come to life, from rehearsals to production to the post. Partly for my own pleasure, and partly to increase appreciation for my friend's beautiful canon of work, this blog is a series of waltzes at a ball that promises to be full of enchantment.