Last week we applauded the first video for Ashley Robicheaux’s musical alter ego R O B I and her shift into the directorial chair from the choreographer/dancer role we’ve seen her fulfil across several of DN’s favourite projects over the past few years. Today Directors Notes has the added pleasure of being the premiere home for the release of the second R O B I music video Handlebars – a haunting mix of live performance and improvisational dance, captured in a single, unbroken shot. Watch it below, after which we sit down with Robi to discover how the various aspects of her multi-threaded career converged and fed into one another for this expressive one-take performance piece.
In what ways do you feel your dance background and the process of creating expressive movement pieces for other musicians shapes the ways in which you now approach your own music creation and, of course, the corresponding visuals you create for that music?
As an artist with synesthesia, I’m always hearing music visually. When I’m writing music there are usually shapes, images, and colors that are coming up for me. I’ve seen many artists interpret their own music through the lens of my choreography/movement direction, and each of them are incredibly different in their process and interpretation. I allowed myself that same freedom, to be true to my own vision. Working with other artists has definitely been informative, but that feels separate from how I approach my own music and visuals.
However, a common thread that I use as a tool for myself and others is to work with the imagery that the songs bring up for them, whether it’s a color, or feeling, etc. Something they can connect to to access a performance that comes from within themselves, but expands on an energetic level beyond their physical body. Also, I often create simple gestures and grooves that are legible but not overstated. For Handlebars in particular, we worked with the imagery that the sounds were built from.
This is a much different concept and production approach to the Eclipse video we featured last week. How did it evolve as both a concept and real time captured production?
Originally, I had in mind a totally different video for my song Handlebars. I wanted work with a narrative idea for a music video I had drafted that was inspired by the imagery of the song (fireworks, riding on a lover’s handlebars in Brooklyn, and star-gazing summer rooftops). Due in part to budgetary restrictions, in combination with a new-found desire to make and perform a live version of the song, I ended up deciding on a one-take live performance video.
I was inspired by the partnership of dancers Madaline Riley and Matthew “ET” Gibbs and had been watching them create together for a while. Their duet was built from there, a fusion of urban-dance + contemporary improvisation skills and some task-based imagery that I led them through. Ultimately, the video is a moving conversation, or a dance, between the dancers, myself, the other musicians, and the camera.
I really enjoy working with Tyler Weinberger, the DP, and he had a lot of input in the directing process as well. I had one movement session with the dancers beforehand to workshop some ideas for movement/get them into the world we were aiming to create. There were a couple of markers we tried to hit each time, but the patterns of the dance and the camera, as well as my performance, were improvised.
The extra-special icing on top for me was that my friend Rahm Silverglade, musically known as Rahm, was there in the room bringing it into new life with me. He and I wrote this song in his tiny studio in Brooklyn in 2017, passing a globe hanging from the ceiling with a microphone on it back and forth, as we shouted the recurring lyrics of the song…
“Ride me home on your handlebars
Let’s go home and try to find the stars
Teach each other things we didn’t know
Tell each other where we wanna go”
Is there a difference to your approach when choreographing a continuous one-shot/live performance vs one which will be subject to or could be modified by cutting?
Definitely! I think my past experience as a performer in immersive shows was useful – there’s no cutting in a show with audience members breathing down your neck. Everything you do is visible, from all different angles. In a way, the camera was both a part of the dance as well as an observer. Imagine the camera was just a person walking around the space, stopping to take time now and then to focus on one idea.
With a video that is shot listed and edited, you have a lot more chances to create a product after the shoot. A lot of the times you don’t have to actually perform the song as well, which is another added element with a live video. This process of doing a one-take was super revealing and we all had to be present about where we were in the space and how we were responding to one another to keep the composition interesting.
This was truly a project I will never forget creating, as it was many firsts in one with people I admire so much involved.
Could you tell us more about the practicalities of the shoot?
A word from DP, Tyler Weinberger:
“We shot Handlebars on a RED Epic Dragon with 24mm Zeiss standard speed lenses. The lighting was all bare bulbs on stands with no shades. We wanted to have a raw feel, but something simple we could play with that would light our subjects in pools. The dancers were lit by a bare blue bulb, which created some color separation. This allowed both the dancers and Robi to explore in two different simple types of lighting.”
This was my first time performing my music live on camera, as well as directing a live performance video. We shot in 6 hours, including set up and 5 takes. Everyone left set feeling like we had made some real art, which, in my opinion, was the goal. This was truly a project I will never forget creating, as it was many firsts in one with people I admire so much involved. Everyone donated their time and gave their individual energy to the space.
What will we see from you next?
New music in 2019. Hopefully more visual content. Probably a handful of my work with other artists!