Set in a remote gas station during a harsh Greek winter, Alexander Stamatiadis’ dance film THORN (ΑΓΚΑΘΙ in Greek) is a symbolic audiovisual journey that confronts masculine hypersensitivity in a conservative and religious region of rural Greece. We see three solitary strangers each arrive at the station and convene to share a moment of connection that allows them to reshape time. The genesis of the film is as organic and loose as its gorgeous and emotive choreography but it wasn’t without its challenges as the shoot took place during one of Greece’s most severe and cold recent winters. DN digs into these challenges with Stamatiadis below as part of our interview for THORN’s online premiere in addition to the improvisation techniques behind his powerful choreography that manages to both showcase the strangers’ sensitive connection and deconstruct contemporary ideals of masculinity.
The location of the gas station feels central to THORN, was it always part of your conceptualisation of the piece or did other elements of the film come before?
THORN was created in a somewhat unconventional way, slowly growing into the form it is today. The week that filming was planned was the coldest and snowiest it’s been in Greece for many years, making transport and even the simplest tasks extremely difficult. Our plan was to film outdoors at some expansive cornfields in Thiva, about one hour north of Athens in mainland Greece. On our journey there we found that dancing outdoors was not only almost impossible but actually dangerous due to the snow and ice.
The filming conditions were quite harsh, making the whole process a lot more heavy-duty and challenging.
In an attempt to get over our location scouting defeat, we went to grab some food in a nearby town. On the way we passed an old gas station, and the Cinematographer Dimitris Lambridis insisted we stop to take some pictures. Turned out, the gas station was exactly what we needed for our film. The owners were super friendly and allowed us to use their premises for our shoot. We devised the story of three strangers meeting in this remote and snowy place, finding out that they share a unique hypersensitivity that allows them to shift time. The collaboration of Choreographer Karim Khouader and the Performers Jerson Diasonama and Petros Nikolidis was essential in bridging the gap between storyline and dance, creating a visual piece that plays with reality.
Were there certain gestures or moods you wanted to incorporate into the choreography? How much of it was improvised versus rehearsed?
We felt the need to incorporate the feelings of loneliness, numbness and absence of warmth; feelings that affect all of us from time to time. During shooting we improvised a lot with how the actual choreography would take place and move the story forward. As you can imagine, the filming conditions were quite harsh, making the whole process a lot more heavy-duty and challenging. We overcame this challenge due to our crew being so passionate and constantly pushing the limits of what is possible.
Given the looseness of the improvisation, were you able to play with the structure and flow of the edit more in post?
In post production, a new aspect of the film was born. Our Editor Nicola Powell gave her own perspective on the film establishing a slow, lingering pace. In the grade, Colorist Manthos Sardis made the atmosphere exactly what we intended it to be. We also experimented a lot with the implementation of music and sound design with the work of our Composer Ermis Geragidis, Sound Designer Paul Koutselos and the traditional string instruments of Evripidis Nikolidis.
During shooting we improvised a lot with how the actual choreography would take place and move the story forward.
How did you want to shift and build the tone of the film through its sonic palette?
I asked our Composer and Producer Ermis Geragidis who said: “The music inherits a mystical sense from both the landscape and the scenography. During the exterior shots, we hear subtle, curious and open-ended musical phrases, which complement the open, mountainous backdrop. A dystopian effect on the ticking clock marks the transition to the supernatural realm, dominated by a long, tense crescendo, instilled with traditional elements of Greek music. We worked very closely with the choreographer and director to ensure that the music followed even the closest hand movements. Contrary to the rest of the team, I worked from the warm comfort of my studio.”
And similarly, with the cinematography, how did you approach both the lighting and camera movements? Was it prepped or more instinctual?
I spoke with Cinematographer Dimitris Lambridis and he said: “We used an Arri Alexa Mini and the Angénieux EZ set, and the Steadicam van’s LED work light. The restrictions we had were the most liberating aspect of the project. Instincts played the biggest role. So, trying to figure out the best way to represent this mood was something we felt out on the spot. The whole thing was lit naturally and/or with available light. It’s a rare opportunity to work this way”.
The restrictions we had were the most liberating aspect of the project. Instincts played the biggest role.
How did you and your crew work around the intensity of the cold conditions?
The cold has a sort of magical effect when working, it pushes you to be efficient and waste as little time as possible. On set, we had just a mini heater around, whilst trying to keep things moving at all times. We stayed hydrated drinking hot beverages, specially prepared by our amazing Production Manager Io Papadatou. Not to mention that the gas station’s water was frozen and so was the toilet… forcing us to take frequent trips to the great outdoors.
What interests you about the storytelling format of the dance film?
Dance is a very liberating and expressive art form and being able to work with such inspiring individuals really makes my day. It’s a whole different world (dance) and the way performers interact with space and music always leaves me in awe. I feel that dance can communicate some things better than dialogue. Combining dance with film can provoke strange feelings at times…
Where do you see yourself going next, in terms of your work?
I would love to direct a narrative/fiction short film in the near future.