Drawing a line between the artful poise of classical sculpture and the leaping elegance of dance, Arthur Valverde’s Statures of Gods takes us on a cultural tour of Paris in which three dancers provide contemporary examples of the powerful beauty of form which has inspired the work of artists for generations. In our interview, Arthur explains how technology was an intrinsic part of this considered appreciation of frozen moments.
What was the underlying concept you set out to capture in Statures of Gods?
Statures of Gods is an exploration of the art of movement; either sculpted or through the expression of dance. I found it particularly interesting to capture the statues of Paris, so full of stories and powerful imagery, in parallel with ballet dancers (from the Opera Garnier and Royal Ballet of Flanders) captured frozen in the midst of leaping and jumping movement.
The statues are the result of a transcended art and it was my intent to portray the dancers becoming like statues in extreme slow motion. The idea is to capture this moment in order to emphasize the examination of perfection and absolute beauty. In doing so, my hope was also to make a beautiful slow piece that could magnify and combine those two art forms in a meditative film.
What guided your selection of the sculptor featured in the film and what influence did they then have on your choice of locations for the dancers and their gravity defying poses?
I didn’t want to incorporate the history of any sculpture or sculptor in particular in my film because it would have driven the film in another direction. It is more about the art of the movement. I wanted the audience to focus simply on the beauty of the shape of an arm or the facial expression of a statue, more than on the context of its creation.
All the statues are from Paris and I chose the ones that moved me the most, where I could see a powerful emotion just by looking at them without particularly knowing their original significance. After my choices I got interested in their significances. Some of them tell such stories and are full of icons and symbols. But in my film, I wanted it to be simple in order to fully appreciate the shapes of the bodies in a frozen moment.
The dancers are all shot on the bridges of Paris. It was, for me, a symbolic way to reunite both arts: dance and sculpture. The bridges reunite them until the final shot where you can actually see the dancers in the air in a frozen moment with two statues on the sides of the frame, which could be the reunion of their art.
The technology is actually part of the concept in itself.
We worked on the set to find the best positions/jumps that would fit with the location, it was like creating a painting, playing with empty and full space in your composition. You never know exactly what a jump is gonna look like in 1500 frame per second, so you need to rehearse it and to try different ones to find the best fit with the location.
How did you and your team approach the challenge of making the film?
I shot this film in April with a very small team (My DP, 1st assistant, 2nd assistant, make up, 1 PA and my dancers). We shot with a Phantom Flex, a very special camera that allows you to shoot at very high speed. Most of the shots with the dancer here are shot in 1500 frames per second. The concept of this film required such a high technology. The technology is actually part of the concept in itself. Nowadays we can capture a frozen moment thanks to the technology, and I found it very interested to compare this shot with some very old sculpture where the sculptor had to re create the ‘frozen moments’.
In total we shot for two days for this project. One day with the dancers and one day with the statues. Shooting with the dancers was so interesting and impressive. Their dance and movements were already so beautiful at normal speed but when you see the perfection of their movements at 1500 fps, it’s another story, the story that I tried to tell.
When you see the perfection of their movements at 1500 fps, it’s another story.
Post would have provided a range of action from each dancer, what were you looking for when selecting these partial movements?
On my edit session, each take lasted about 2 minutes on screen, but was actually shot in live action for 3 seconds. So in the action I literally just had the jump, and tried to edit it exactly at the emphasize of every moment, to get the perfection of their movements, the moment when their body is transcending into art. I tried to let the slow motion shots breath in the edit, so the film is very slow paced. Nowadays, everything goes and needs to be so fast. I tried to make this piece a slow one and let the audience observe the beauty in it, as if it were a painting.
Did this being a technology driven concept alter your working methods at all? Is there anything you plan to carry over into future projects?
Yes working with a very high speed camera changes your way of shooting, but I’ve worked in these condition a lot. I think the most important thing to me is to try to stay true with myself and do what I like and what feels beautiful to me. I would definitely work in high speed again, but want to experiment with different things and whatever the process I choose needs to be true for the project.