AN INTERVIEW WITH BILLY MARCHENSKI, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & WRITER OF "LIGHT - BEARER"
Best Experimental Film & Best Sound Design - October 2021 Edition
Thank you for a beautiful piece of art, Billy Marchenski. Can you share with the audience how the idea was born?
The idea for the piece comes from a dream I had as a young man, where I come face to face with Lucifer, the devil. Lucifer was the brightest star in Heaven, and was cast out of paradise for rebelling against the authority of God.
I remember telling Lesley Ewen the dream after a show one night while we were having a drink together in Vancouver. Time passed and the outbreak of Covid happened, and my family and I were in lockdown for the first time at the beginning of March in 2020. Lesley, who had been living in London for the past few years, suggested that we make something using the dream as inspiration. Since we were both stuck at home, unable to work, we decided why not? At night, after my family was in bed, I would create choreography in the living room. I got some pretty funny looks from my daughter's mum whenever she came out of the bedroom to pee, or get a glass of water. I'd record the movements on my computer and send them to Lesley who'd give feedback and inspiring images and videos of things she felt related to the inner life of the piece. We had email conversations and phone chats and the structure of the thing seemed to come together on its own.
Being in lockdown came with feelings of uncertainty about the future, and feeling cut off from family and friends. This made me understand Lucifer as someone similarly cut off. He is utterly alone.
Filming Dance requires particular skills. Was this your first shot at it, in terms of directing? What were the challenges, if any?
This was my first attempt at directing and performing in a dance/ experimental film, and there were many challenges. Working on the sound design was a steep learning curve for me. I made a rough recording in my kitchen one night, with a set of chimes I liked, and I loved the hypnotic effect of it, but I did not know what to do with the raw recording. Andreas Kahre, who is a long-time collaborator, was very generous when I sent him the track. He agreed to work on it, and decided to use the raw sounds as a source from which to pull all, or most of the other sounds he came up with in the design.
The main challenge I felt with the sound was finding the right balance. I wanted the sound to leave space for the body and allow it to have its own presence, and also at times to drive the transitions in the choreography. Andreas was very patient with me as we adjusted and readjusted details in the track. I think he did a great job in finding the right tension between sparseness and energy.
Lesley Ewen is credited for the Dramaturgy. Can you explain about their input, and how that combines with choreography per se?
Lesley and I are old friends. We've worked together for years, and we trust each other. This is really important because it means we can be honest with one another. Lesley was very clear about things she thought were either not working, or unnecessary. I might have taken the feedback personally, if it had come from someone else. She reminded me of the importance of the intention of the piece. All of the choreography is connected to imagery and circumstances that she and I established in the process of building the inner life of the work. It's a similar process to how an actor builds the inner life of a character.
The film is a perfect sequence-shot. How much did you have to rehearse to get this result? What were the conversations with your DoP?
I spent several hours creating and rehearsing the choreography in my apartment, using the raw sound I had recorded for inspiration and timing. I knew I wanted to shoot on that particular beach as I'd been there many times before. It is possible to walk 4 kilometres out into the ocean when the tide is low, and I love the expansiveness of the landscape.
I showed Israel Seoane, the cinematographer, some of the test footage I'd recorded in my apartment, and he stated his desire to shoot the piece in one take. I liked this choice, but I was worried about how we could accomplish this. It was going to be challenging to perform the entire choreography without making a mistake, especially being outside in the elements. But I liked that our work was going to be heavily influenced by our surroundings. Around this time, there were forest fires down in Washington state. Smoke from the fires had traveled up to Vancouver, and the entire city was immersed in white haze. I felt that we needed to take advantage of this. So the next day, Isra and I scouted our location, found a spot we liked, and roughed out the blocking for the shoot.
We shot the entire piece three times the next day. By the end, I was shivering with cold and had had enough. Since we were shooting on a sandbar out in the ocean, the water levels had changed from when we first got there. In some places, there were flat pools several inches deep, and the hazy light from the smoke created these mirrors all around us. This is when we decided we needed to come back the next day and shoot again, incorporating the reflection of the water. The next day we did another three takes, and I think it was the second one of these that we chose in the end. I love how the reflection creates an inverted Hell that Lucifer is trapped inside of.
As much as it often reaches high levels of technicity, Dance is also a spontaneous human expression. What is your take on the "restrictive" conditions a lot of youths in the West have had to live in, preventing them, among other things, from dancing?
Artistically speaking, restrictions are a gift. I don't enjoy being given too many options. It stresses me out. Restrictions can be a relief, but I think it's about working with the right kind of restrictions. When you work with restrictions, things start to happen. If you make a mistake, it means you are really working. If you can work with restrictions and allow yourself the permission to make mistakes, you can truly express yourself. Technicity is just a set of restrictions. It is useful until it shuts down expression, and then it needs to change.
What is the role of the Artist in society?
Allow yourself to be touched by the world around you, and reflect it back to itself.
Care to tell us a little about your future projects?
Lesley Ewen and I are working on a piece also based on a dream, a nightmare. It scares me a little, so I'm glad she will be there to witness the process.
Israel Seoane and I are starting to test something in collaboration with a local Vancouver visual artist, a sculptor based in East Van. It's a piece that may also have a live element to it. I miss performing for a live audience, so this is exciting to me. It's where I started and I love it. I think liveness has a big influence on me. I want my film work to create a visceral sensation in the audience.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema
The most notable changes in the post- COVID cinema, I think, will come from a desire to re- connect with the experience of watching films with other people in an actual cinema. There is an excitement, and anticipation in these public spaces, and my sense is people miss it.
Artistically, one of the positive things that has come out of being in lock- down, is that it has given me the mental space and time to clarify the kind of work i want to make. Especially in the first few months of the first wave here on the west coast, we were forced to slow down, and look inside. Feeling disconnected from friends, and from the ability to travel, feeling bored with the routines that became an inherent part of lockdown culture motivated me to make this film on my own terms. And again, my collaborators and I had a lot of free time to give to the project.
The experience of making "light- bearer" is something I can look back on, if and when life speeds up again. I trust it will remind me to regularly check in with this inner clarity, and to take the time to make the work that I need to make.
DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & WRITER
Billy Marchenski studied devised creation, writing, acting, contemporary dance and directing at the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has worked as a professional Theatre maker, actor, and contemporary dancer for the last 20 years.
He was a member of Vancouver Butoh company Kokoro Dance for five years, and started the Butoh group "gigamal" with artists from Vancouver and Kyoto, Japan. Gigamal's first show, "taker," premiered at the Boombox in Vancouver in February 2020. Billy is the recipient of the Sydney J. Rysk prize for Outstanding play for "slowpoke," a piece about his experiences in and around the Chernobyl Exclusion zone in Ukraine. "light- bearer" is his first film, created with dramaturg, Lesley Ewen, long- time friend and collaborator.