Inspiring Change Through Dance: Behind the Scenes on Corey Baker’s Choreographed Masterpieces

Producer Anne Beresford and Jungle sound designer Chris Turner on their collaboration with director/choreographer Corey Baker for a series of BBC dance films

Award-winning choreographer and filmmaker Corey Baker is much celebrated for his innovation and commitment to driving dance into the 21st century. With a passion that dance is for everyone, Corey takes dance out of traditional settings and puts it into everyday locations to inspire the masses.

To coincide with the global climate conference COP26, Corey directed and choreographed two powerful and striking films to capture movement inspired by renewable energy and the power of the wind, showcasing the dramatic land and seascapes of Scotland.

In this interview, LBB speaks to Corey’s long-time collaborator, producer Anne Beresford, as well as Jungle Studios sound designer Chris Turner to find out how these beautifully moving films came together.

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LBB> Anne, this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Corey – can you tell us a bit about your history with him?

Anne Beresford, producer> We’ve made four films together before, starting with Antarctica: The First Dance, which was released on World Earth day and is a solo for Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham, filmed on location in the great white expanses of Antarctica.   

Then we worked with our friends at United Nations Environment Programme for Lying Together with Hong Kong Ballet, filmed in the green spaces both urban and rural in Hong Kong and Spaghetti Junction, filmed under the (in)famous interchange in Birmingham, featuring dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet on (people-powered) scooters. 

In 2020 we made Swan Lake Bath Ballet for BBC/Culture in Quarantine which was filmed entirely remotely on mobile phones, in the filled bathtubs of 27 amazing dancers around the world.

LBB> And Chris, when you first received the brief for the two COP26 films, what was your initial reaction?

Chris Turner, sound designer> Excitement. I’d watched Corey’s Swan Lake Bath Ballet and his epically beautiful Antarctica: The First Dance films, and I really wanted to work with him.

I met Corey to view the COP26 films and I thought they were visually very arresting; the settings were cool and the mood of the dancers gave these films a real intensity.

LBB> How do you personally feel about the climate crisis and what did it mean to you to take part in a project for The Generation Restoration Film Festival?

Chris> My first introduction to climate issues was via Ben Elton’s book ‘Stark’, which I read in 1989. It made me more conscientious about the environment and changed many of my buying decisions; I still don’t use aerosols and I have a strict one in one out policy when it comes to my wardrobe. 

At the time, I was 16, and like most 16-year-olds, I was very idealistic. I preached, “think global, act local” to my friends and family and I felt certain that governments armed with the knowledge that their decisions were helping destroy the planet would make radical changes – I was wrong.

For me, it’s easy to see why many activists are tired of politicians and companies talking about climate action and yet doing very little. To take part in The Generation Restoration Film Festival was a huge honour and I feel privileged to be able to use my skills for good.

LBB> Can you tell us what the ideation process was like – what was your approach and vision?

Anne> Corey often starts with a one-line notion and things grow from there. For example, Swan Lake Bath Ballet was a phone call saying just that – how about we do a new Swan Lake in the bath? 

For Blown and Leader Of A New Regime, it was a desire to do something about wind and power and the landscapes around wind farms. And, of course, we were thinking about COP26 and how we wanted to make something that would add to the focus on the environment.

Chris> Corey is very good at leaving the narrative in his films open to interpretation and this gave me freedom to explore and engage with it in my own way. 

Working with Corey is a real pleasure because he doesn’t weigh the creative process down with expectation, he likes to review when you feel you’re getting somewhere or if you need a steer, and he’s always so appreciative of your craft even if he wants to subtly change direction here or there. 

LBB> In Leader Of A New Regime, there are a couple of shots of a dancer on top of a wind turbine! What was the process like of getting that shot?

Anne> The dancers had really rigorous and thorough training in order to work at height. And of course we planned and worked closely with all the experts. It was very carefully prepared and thought-through.

LBB> Chris, how did you go about designing the sound to match the movements of the dancers?

Chris> I asked the dancers to record themselves doing the steps on their phones so that I could foley them in time back at the studio. I would say footsteps are always hard to get right and time out – when the footsteps are dancing it’s really tricky to get right. 

A lesson I learned many years ago was that no matter how many feet are in the shot, never use more than three sets of footsteps.

LBB> What were some of the creative and technical challenges you faced on this project and how did you overcome them?

Anne> Corey has a very clear vision for both the movement and how it is framed. I would say that people are as important as equipment in achieving that. The contribution that the directors of photography bring is vital and then in post-production, the collaboration during editing, the choice of music and the role of sound design.

Filming on location always brings its challenges as well as its joys and the sense of being in a very special place. I was back in the relative warmth of London but our Scottish producers Lindsey Douglas and Ali Ellam of Rooster TV were managing the location filming, ferrying rugs (for people and as props) making sure all the essentials that you need for crew and cast were there. You can’t change the weather of course, but that’s also part of what gives the films their particular look. 

Chris> I think the biggest creative challenge for sound was on ‘Regime’- the music used from Lorde is much shorter than the film itself so I had to weave very subtle music through the beginning and end section of the film so that it would keep the right emotional engagement. 

However, I don’t think anyone would notice the subtle music flowing like the strong breeze throughout this film and that was important to me. I wanted to connect the beginning, middle and end together to maintain the flow but allow time for anticipation and reflection.

LBB> How have the films been received? What feedback have you had so far?

Chris> The comments were positive and they got people talking, let’s hope they also get people doing.

LBB> And finally, you also worked on the recently released Dance Race, a headline film for BBC’s Dance Passion. What was it like working on this project and how different was it to the COP26 films?

Anne> This is very different – lots of distinct dance forms including working with some astonishing sky divers. We also worked with a great team of precision drivers who were an integral part of the creative process; the cars were choreographed just as much as the performers. It was great to see the collaboration between Corey, the dancers, the camera and the cars – something new for me and for all of us I think.

Chris> Well, every scene is a highlight, it’s epic and it’s fun. It feels very familiar and yet everything is different, it’s like La La Land meets Bond on the set of Top Gear and yet the protagonists are a real diverse group, all enjoying movement and dance in their own styles.

I loved sound designing the sky divers because there are so many layers that went into making up their movement, environment and journey to the finish line. There are so many different textures that all come together to make their story exciting, believable and climactic.

I also love the black cab – my dad used to be a black cab driver and it made me wonder if he’d ever done a handbrake turn in it.