Stirling Matheson ’09, who already has dancer and writer on his resume, is adding a new credit: film director.
Absolution, his short film of a dance Sarah Farnsley ’10 choreographed, will premiere at the Dances With Films independent-film festival in Los Angeles on June 8 at the world-famous TCL Chinese Theatre.
“It’s a very different kind of directing,” said Matheson, who danced with Ballet Theatre of Maryland, founded Ballet Theatre of Indiana in 2014, and has written for Dance magazine, among other publications. “I’m used to directing my company, and that’s about training it to be repeatable so that it goes right for the one shot you get on stage. But we had five hours to do this, which was a new experience, for sure.”
The film, which runs almost seven minutes and features five Butler University graduates among the company, visits the House of the Rising Sun, which in folklore is an allegory for purgatory. There, in the pouring rain, all the dancers are grappling with their guilt and figuring out how to forgive themselves for whatever went wrong in their lives. As they come to terms with their issues, they can go off into the purple light and the rest of the afterlife. But for some people, that takes more time than others.
Absolution debuted as a dance piece about two years ago during a Ballet Theatre of Indiana performance at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. As he watched, Matheson was struck by the details and angles in the choreography. He began to envision it as a film.
“”I had some ideas of exactly what I wanted in lighting, which was different from the stage version,” he said. “The original version was stark white side light. I thought it would end up looking dead on film. There was a bit of symbolism in the colors that we used, that pale melancholy blue-gray on the right side of the frame and then as they traveled from right to left, they went into that more ethereal death and rebirth-looking purple.””
He describes his role in the production as “translator” between Director of Photography Bryan Boyd and Farnsley, who made sure the film was true to her choreography.
They shot the film from 10:00 PM to 3:00 AM on a night when “it was 60 degrees and I was literally spraying them with a sprinkler the whole time,” Matheson said. “They’re some pretty tough ladies.”
The dancers include Michelle Quenon ’15, Anne Mushrush ’15, Lauren Nasci ’14, Audrey Robson ’14, Christina (Presti) Voreis ’14, and Catherine Jue ’15. They’re all part of the Ballet Theatre of Indiana company, which concluded its fourth season this spring.
Matheson said the Indianapolis debut of the film version of Absolution will likely take place during Ballet Theatre of Indiana’s fifth season, which will be announced this summer. He suggested that people who want to see the film check out Ballet Theatre of Indiana’s website.
“I’m never mad when people go to btindiana.org and sign up for the newsletter if they want to see us flail our limbs in person, rather than on the screen,” he said, laughing. “I mean, that’s what dancing is—it’s limb-flailing. But good limb-flailing.”
Marc Allan MFA ’18