I’ve been very fortunate to know Makoto Hirano over the years and to see his work grow. When I approached him about doing some tests with the GH1 and the Pegasus II I thought it would be a wonderful way to collaborate and to help him document and explore his newest solo creation “Boom Bap Tourism” which he recently performed at the Asian Arts Initiative. Actually for many years, I’ve seen Makoto perform with his own company of dancers, OMNiBUS, as well as with Bill Irwin, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Nichole Canuso Dance Company, Kate Watson-Wallace, and others. This was the first time in a long while that I saw Makoto perform solo and it is truly an amazing treat to see live and in person and I wanted to investigate and see whether we could capture some of the essence of his live work within a film context.
Years ago, I used to do a lot of physical theater and abstract movement when my body was agile and I was physically fit so it was nice to bring some of those sensibilities with me in this shoot. Joseph Santarromana, a well known California based installation and video artist, once told me that he would tell his students when filming dance to move with the camera and to have that camera be an extension of your body. When filming Makoto, I found myself taking Joe’s advice and really dancing with Makoto and feeling out his emotional journey in each piece. Each time Makoto performed it was different and unique. We never scripted or talked about the shots we just sort of rode the moment. Each take is sort of a living memory of that experience and it will never be performed in that way again and I think that is why I wanted to post the process to show not only the technical use of the Pegasus II and GH1 but also how we as filmmakers must throw out the technical aspects and limitations and just allow for that organic process of collaboration between subject and viewer to naturally unfold. Obviously in doing these types of shoots, you got to practice and learn the plusses and minuses of your gear so that when it comes to that real take it’s already in your body and not your head.
In the documentation of dance, usually, dancers and choreographers want to see the whole movement and space and prefer a much wider shot. I find that most filmmakers, including myself, like that tighter look to see the emotion and facial expression as well as to capture strong intimate movement. So in many respects, the clips in this test capture more of a tighter feel and what I was also feeling in the moment as the viewer of the piece. If I were recording the work for Makoto to view and study, I would definitely have gone for wider shots. But since we also had the Pegasus II to test out it was my goal to see how we can use it well and push it to see what it could do.
Clearly Makoto’s influences as a B-Boy, break dancer are present especially in “Elemental Dance” where he merges B-Boy elements with everyday pedestrian-like body movements as well as organic abstraction.
I think I personally was stronger as a camera operator on Take 2. I definitely got a better handle on how to really work the Pegasus II on that take. As I said many, many times before it takes a lot of practice to know how to balance the camera so that you can move and get the camera to go in the direction that you want with as little bounce as possible. Especially when filming dance with a Pegasus II unit you need to be moving all the time. Over all, on both takes I tried as little as possible to guide my camera with my free hand and to just balance and move the camera with my hand holding the gimbal.
Here is Take 2 of Makoto Hirano’s “Elemental Dance”