Structural Movement

Along the deserted highwalks of the Barbican estate, a strange presence follows a group of performers as they fill the empty space with dance, until the unknown takes over the screens. Nick White’s Intrusion is an example of collaboration in its truest form – dance, architecture and film contributing to a larger art form.

A: Intrusion screened as part of the dance thread at ASFF 2016. How did you find the experience of directing, collaborating with a dance company?
NW: It was a huge challenge. As a drama and documentary director, I had zero experience in music or dance videos. I hadn’t worked with a dance crews before and I have to admit only a passing interest in dance as an art form, so this was way out of my comfort zone. The only thing I knew was that – from the few dance films I’d seen, I wanted to make sure that camera movement was central to the piece, making the camera a dancer in it’s own right. I was blown away that Sidd Khajuria and Angie Smith at the Barbican, who commissioned the film, put so much trust in me. They pretty much just said: we like your work. We want you to use a hip hop dance crew, we want you to use a drone, you can have the entire Barbican foyer for one night from shutdown until dawn, the rest is up to you. You often hear that branded content jobs like this are micromanaged to death by the client. This was quite the opposite. They gave us enough free range to create something that exceeded their expectations.

A: Could you talk about how you navigated the concrete environment of the Barbican, and how created a dialogue between Brutal architecture and dance culture?
NW: Everything came together very quickly. I met Kenrick Sandy from Boy Blue only a couple months before the shoot. Ken is the choreographer at Boy Blue, a world-class dancer in his own right and the one doing the incredible flips in the film. Very quickly a kind of wild concept came together about the night spirits of the Barbican. People lambast the Barbican Estate as soulless but I think they don’t know it. There’s a deep mischievousness to it. It’s a concrete maze that toys with people as they walk through. The lines of the architecture pull you in. The ramps tempt you to run down them, the dark corners dare you to peek around them. It’s a kind of utopian experiment that expired and – left half-empty for decades took – on it’s own life. It’s like the ghosts of the Barbican took over and played a joke on it’s meticulous architects. From the outside it’s a foreboding concrete monolith, but sneak into the Conservatory on a Sunday afternoon and you’re completely enveloped a jungle, complete with live Terrapins, orchids, giant creepers and not a soul in sight.

A: How did the actual filming for the piece take place? What cameras did you use and why?
NW: Boy Blue have in incredibly gymnastic edge, and we wanted a lot of smooth camera moves that explored the space, floated like a ghost through the empty space and showed off that gymnastic ability at the same time. Very quickly it became clear that we wanted dark, electric, industrial mood (clearly a response to the architecture) and a narrative of conflict between the commanding “presence” of the Barbican and a group of “sprites” (or deamons, depending on how you look at them) who invade the space at night .

A: How did the actual filming for the piece take place? What cameras did you use and why?
NW: We couldn’t afford to light the whole space, but there were colour controls on the existing lighting rig. With supremely talented DP Joshua Fry, we made a plan to make as much use of those controls as we could, bathing different areas with solid sheets of colour, popping out the silhouettes of writhing bodies. Filming was very free form. We had a basic shot list but knew we wanted the flexibility to make sequences up based on the choreography. The incredibly versatile Angus Benson-Blair, our drone pilot, divided his time between navigating the 8ft wide drone through the concrete hallways and chasing flick-flacking dancers across the basement floor on rollerblades while carrying the gimbal rig. We grabbed as much footage as we could before the dawn came up and the public started flooding back in. There was so much more we didn’t get time to capture. We could have filmed for days, but all we had was one night.

A: What do you have planned for this year?
NW: This year, we’re working on another varied set of projects – potentially some really exciting data visualisation video projects with the United Nations. A boardroom drama. A feature project I can’t talk about yet. I’m loving working on a hugely diverse range on things. I’d love to make another dance film or music video. A kind of sequel to Intrusion has been on the cards, taking the dancers and the drone outside at the Barbican this time to explore the vertical space with it’s incredible over towering buildings. It’s something I’d jump at in a heartbeat.

I was entertaining the idea of re-cutting Intrusion to create a shorter version, but it turns out the sprites had one last trick to play. Despite our diligent back up system, the hard drive with all the rushes ate itself, and the back up drive mysteriously zero-wiped at the same time, with no recovery possible… All we had left was a copy of the finished film. Seems the spirits wanted us to keep it just the way it is.

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1. Trailer for Intrusion. Courtesy of Vimeo.