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.

Friday, December 16, 2005

swinging! reunions and farewells

Wednesday night, I drove through the large impressive but stark iron grid gates of The Toronto Film Studios on Eastern Avenue, one of the most popular places of production in the city with its fifteen soundstages. On Stage 3 I found Roxana, occupying a completely enclosed set that had been dressed to serve as many different rooms of Roxana's apartment. After almost two days of shooting, the video village of monitors and grip equipment was right now parked in the main hall of the apartment and behind us furniture from the space had been crammed into the adjoining rooms, which included Roxana's bedroom.

The action focussed on the enormous living room area with its risen space at the back. Production Designer Rhonda Moscoe and Art Director Martha Sparrow had converted it into the large living room space of a would-be sophisticate nouveau riche, circa 1960. Classical pieces of art existed alongside square shaped standing lamps that looked pulled right out of the Dick Van Dyke show. As usual the lighting had combined with the set design to shimmer colour in yet another perspective on the era I've seen painted many different styles over the last ten days.

The set up was focussed on long extensive wide dolly shots of Roxana and Amy arriving late to their own party. Guests are already there and ready to get down. A swing dance emerges and Roxana does a short vampy solo in its midst. A young hired waitress offers a drink on a platter and noticing her charm bracelet, Roxana and the girl have an immediate understanding: the girl is Roxana's own abandoned daughter Susan. The scene freezes, the lighting shifts to a dramatic red to represent an emotional solo, the music returns and mother and daughter dance an intense and emotional duet. When reality re-emerges, Susan wants to press the connection and Roxana shies away, first to Amy, who realises what is going on, and then to leave the room. It is a lot of action for one take! and will in the end be about five minutes long.

When I first arrived, the dolly tracks were already in place along the front edge of the room, echoing the view I had seen in both the Chez Paree and Art Gallery numbers. Soon after, however, the tracks were moved on an angle to allow a more intimate angle on the mother and daughter duet. I stood on an apple crate (used by the grip team) in the triangle of space leftover to the corner of the set and looked down to see little Olivia Ballantyne, the young actress playing Susan as a very young girl in other scenes. In this sequence, a brief moment had been planned in the silence and light change when Roxana and Susan first recognize each other. A superimposition was going to replace the older Susan with the younger one. As time played out in the day, however, the shot was cut. The young actress had been on set since 3:30 but did not seem to mind. Indeed, her bright emotional face watching the action of the older women, modelled for a brief moment the gifts of an acting generation to come.

The studio buzzers sounded, marking the beginning and ending of takes - several times. Each time, it was back to "ones", the starting positions of all players. I again marvelled at the endurance and stamina of performers especially those gyrating intensely to the swing style of the new years eve rhythms. At one point, an ensemble dancer appears to spin several times in the air before landing. The ensemble whoops in appreciation. (Since the music is being laid in later, the live sound of the scene is not being recorded. Therefore, dancers can say things to create the ambience of the scene, while backstage, director and cinematographer can call back and forth to the set as well.) The action of the dance moves so swiftly and in such upbeat rhythms that the mood is infectious. Beside me another onlooker taps her foot with the beat. The overall mood is festive and light, allowing for a stark contrast when the story moves into the duet between mother and daughter. I found myself wondering how Moze is able to conceive such beautiful shifts in texture in advance.

Eventually, the buzzer sounded for a final time and the day was done at 9:00 p.m. Maria, the First A.D. came forward and announced that some people were now finished and rounds of applause were given, first for Olivia, the young girl, then Christopher Body, whose strong and vibrant dance and acting presence as the Pawnbroker will be a huge part of the film's dynamic, and the extraordinary ensemble who have danced Roxana from decade to decade. Kisses and hugs were exchanged as the crew began pulling up cable and assembling boxes for the night. I wandered away to have a look at the sets being prepped for the next day - including a plane set, on which Rex Harrington, as Eliot, will receive incriminating photos. The little set had been already transformed into a Gultstream cabin of the period.

As I write this two days later on Friday night, the day of shooting is almost over in Toronto which will mark a wrap for dancer Greta Hodgkinson who plays Roxana. Almost as soon as she has stepped out of the 50s and 60s era costumes she has been living in, she will get on a plane herself for Florence, Italy, to perform with a different Roberto - Roberto Bolle, at the Teatro Communale for six performances before the year is out! Meanwhile, on Saturday's last day of shooting, all of Amy's remaining scenes observing Roxana through keyholes will be shot without Roxana there. Even now, the actors and dancers are retreating into the images and emotion they have created - blurred impressions in the memories of those who watched, while they themselves move on to other worlds.


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