Film Interview – Goodbye Chelsea07/08/2020
Director, Choreographer, Producer Breton Tyner-Bryan
Director of Photography Micahel J. Burke
Co-Editors Breton Tyner-Bryan, Emily Ulrich
Performers James Jude Johnson, Breton Tyner-Bryan, Emily Ulrich
Music Con Brio
A film by Breton Tyner-Bryan, Breton Follies Productions
New York. (2020)
Running time: 5 min 21 sec
AFP: How did this project start?
BTB: Since its creation, I’ve wanted to adapt my signature trio “Minerva’s Stride” by Breton Follies originally created for stage, into a film now titled Goodbye Chelsea. I directed, choreographed, and styled this piece, and was an original cast member. We performed it many times in New York City on proscenium stages at City Center, NYU Skirball Theater, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and New Victory Theater 42nd Street. Unlike some of my other works designed for smaller immersive spaces, Minerva’s Stride was always intended to be bold, aggressive, and physically challenging. Only 2 minutes in length, it’s an adrenaline-laced sprint to the finish, filled with intricate footwork and over the top facial expressions. It thrives on speed and exaggeration. I played around with many different locations for this film from ballrooms to funeral parlours, in the hopes of honouring the original concept and it’s characters’ identities. I initially thought representing the original work would be the strongest statement. After many adjustments, I realized that the most successful evolution would be to modernize it. Originally bound by unified costumes and classic 1950’s mambo music, I created an entirely new aesthetic with a throwback feel evocative of classic 1990’s music videos. We moved away from uniform cream suits and kept one original item from the stage production, a white vintage jacket. I updated the costumes with a minimalist approach and expanded the colour pallet. The music was the final collaborative element. Having shared the footage with a dear friend and composer of many years, he immediately resonated with its California vibe, and the sensuality in the choreography became much more visible at a slower tempo.
AFP: How was the process?
BTB: This process was unusual in that our planned location fell through the day we visited the set, due to safety concerns. We left with our equipment and decided to head to the water’s edge in Manhattan thanks to our DP Michael J. Burke, to get better access to light in New York City’s midtown district. It was a very lucky and serendipitous event that led us to the perfect pier and time of day to shoot. Once we settled into the new venue, it was clear we were in the right place at the right time. A local boat shop even allowed us to film on the spot and invited us back anytime. I feel strongly that everything we went through that day, and leading up to the shoot, brought us to the most beautiful location at just the right time for filming. It’s all about planning and then being flexible, by capturing the best moment together that’s right in front of you. The costumes I designed were for a completely different venue that was very dark and tuned out to be the perfect match with Manhattan’s bright blue sky. I think the lesson here is to always pivot by seeing what’s possible, instead of focusing on what’s been lost.
AFP: How did you plan the choreography?
BTB: Having performed this piece many times for stage, the cast rehearsed and reviewed the choreography days before the shoot, and then we adapted it for different facings and formations on site. Because we were not working with live music, or a smooth surface to dance on, the cast really tuned into each by connecting with the sound of the wind and the waves of the ocean. Performing outside at a slower pace in the sun, it really allowed us to lean into the sensuality of the choreography. I never envisioned this movement being done at this tempo for film, and it worked out really nicely once we began editing. The choreography is not intended to have a contemporary slick aesthetic focused on speed, which you commonly see today in dance. It’s meant to be a contrast with the location, showing an understated elegance, united by the simplicity of the sun.
AFP: What was the idea behind the colour pallet for Goodbye Chelsea, given that your past films have been in black and white?
GC: I love colour, I am truly obsessed with using it as a communicative tool. Colour constantly conveys time and emotion to me. With a dance and photographer background spanning 20 years, much of my experience with past choreography came through seeing cinema and still images in black and white. For me, it’s timeless and has a throwback feel to the things I idolized as a child because I first experienced them without colour. Some of the films I’m currently working on have elaborately designed interiors, saturated with layers of textures and time references. I love using the excess to convey alternate realities and time travel through cinema. That being said, Goodbye Chelsea has a sparse California/Venetian feel, inspired by our location with a nautical colour pallet of red white and blue, set against modern silver buildings in downtown Manhattan. Stylistic there are references to our Breton Follies’ vintage roots, with 1950’s red velvet heels, black silk cutaway lapel jacket, a 1930’s navy blue beaded vest, and heels worn by everyone in the cast reflecting our take on gender expression in performance. It’s a more minimalist approach for me than usual, so we really focused on the feel-good vibes and joy shared by the performers. They are just being themselves, and that natural state, layered against choreography and minimal costumes, felt really satisfying. It’s like cooking, sometimes you only need a few exceptional ingredients to make something that’s classic and timeless.
AFP: How do the 3 characters and cast members relate on screen and in daily life?
BTB: The cast is representative of long time collaborators of Breton Follies, having performed and toured together for the past 5 years. The story of Goodbye Chelsea is intrinsic to the trust and camaraderie we felt while having to leave a venue that was not safe and regroup with the time and light that we had left that day. The personal relationships of the entire cast and team are reflected in Goodbye Chelsea, from the location to the music, laughter, and moments of embrace. I took something that had been extremely severe for the stage, and made it modern, emotionally warm, and authentic for the screen.
AFP: Can you tell us about your choice of music?
BTB: I chose the track Body Language because it has a great percussive downbeat that grounds and pushes the choreography without being heavy. It is set against a smooth slow jams vibe thanks to vocalist Ezekiel McCarter, who has an exceptional range. The warmth of the horns and instrumentation along with his high notes match superbly with the bright visuals of the sun. This creates the feeling of a journey with a satisfying pop beat. It’s not what you’d expect given the choreography or styling, and I love layering unexpected references to different time periods in my work.