Angelo Silvio Vasta is a New York-based filmmaker from Milan, Italy. His work explores the infinite ways choreography and performance can be expressed through moving images. In the past years he has produced a series of short dance films for dance companies and individual dancers both in New York City and abroad. His work includes music videos, short films, video-portraits, and promotional clips. In 2014 he was awarded for his excellence in Visual Design at the 35th Fine Cuts Film Show at The New School in NYC. Angelo received his BFA in International Politics from University of Milan, Italy and his Certificate in Film Production from The New School.
I’ve long been a dance and theater enthusiast and I was delighted to be connected with Angelo, an up-and-coming local New York City filmmaker, to discuss the artistic process and inspiration behind his work. As a New Yorker, I was especially interested in hearing about Angelo’s experiences in filming dance here in the city which has inspired so many gorgeous iconic dance productions. If you’ve ever lived in New York, or wanted to travel here to experience the arts, I think you’ll be interested to meet young Angelo. Read on.
When you moved from Italy to NYC, were you surprised at all by the amount of opportunities for dance filmmaking that exist here?
Yes, I’ve always been very impressed by the dance scene in NYC. Besides the fact that in New York there is an incredible amount of dance companies and dancers, dance is everywhere here. You see dance in the streets (think about the litefeet performances you get to see on the subway), movies (Black Swan, Grease, Flash Dance, Dirty Dancing, West Side Story), TV shows (Glee), music videos (most of the pop stars in America have incredible dance skills, a.k.a., Beyonce, Madonna, Michael Jackson). In Italy (where I come from) it’s not like this at all: You can find dance only within the walls of Opera and National Ballet theaters. For this reason I think NYC is one of the few places in the world where I could see myself doing this job. In the era of social media, most of the dance companies need videos to promote their upcoming shows, and more and more individual dancers are looking for collaborations with talented filmmakers that can give them visibility by showing on camera their incredible movement.
Here, in less than a day, I am able to find all the resources and subjects that my work needs, and for an artist this is priceless.
In NYC, I’ve always felt very welcomed as a dance filmmaker, and dance companies and dancers have so much respect for my job; they make me feel like my role is crucial for them to get visibility. Dance is an art form that takes place in a specific time and place — as a spectator, you don’t get to see it unless you are in that particular place at that particular time.
Film is powerful because gives dance a platform to be shown and seen by everyone, everywhere and anywhere. On a more independent/underground level, NYC offers the opportunity to play around with my work, and explore it. Here, there are so many dancers who are willing to make art unconditionally. Anytime I need to do some experiments or work on a personal dance film project, I know there will always be one/three/ten dancers out there who are willing to be part of it, offering me their time, talent and professional commitment. Here, in less than a day, I am able to find all the resources and subjects that my work needs, and for an artist this is priceless.
What is a project that you’ve worked on here in NYC that you’re particularly proud of?
My latest project. I’m always very critical with my old works. It’s a behind-the-scenes video I made for Ballet Hispanico. The video features worldwide known choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa during the creation of Linea Recta, a piece that premiered at the Apollo Theater on November 2016. For the creation of this video, I had to be in the studio with the choreographer and the dancers everyday for two weeks. I had the privilege to follow the choreographer’s creative process from scratch, having the opportunity to dive into the poetic and theme of the piece she was creating. While I was making it, I literally fell in love with the subject I was working on – the dancers, the dance, the costumes, the music. Everything was so theatrical. When I was in the studio I felt like I was part of the whole creative process: As if I were one of the dancers, I was carefully hearing the choreographer’s words; I was studying and memorizing the choreography; ultimately my priority was to capture the essential elements of the production.
…It’s always like this, when you love the subject you are filming and you can’t do wrong.
When you are asked to make a video like this, you do want to deeply understand what the piece is about in order to show the spectator the essential core of it. At the end of each day, I would go home and watch the footage until late at night while taking notes on what was missing or could be improved in the next days. That production was such a source of inspiration for me that it brought me to create a piece I really am proud of (it’s always like this, when you love the subject you are filming and you can’t do wrong). The images, the composition, the framing, the angles, the camera movements were carefully studied and I tried my best to use my cinematography to add value to a choreography that was extremely already beautiful.
BALLET HISPANICO LINEA RECTA
When did you begin filming dance?
My child’s dream was to be a professional dancer, however I never studied dance until I was 22 years old. I was trained in classical studies and the humanities which helped me to develop a certain kind of aesthetic and a specific sense of beauty. I’ve always been interested in visual arts and on an abstract level I’ve always seen dance as moving art. After school I went into film studies, not because I wanted to be a director, but because it urged me speak through images; I wanted to create paintings in motion. It took me a while to connect the dots and realize that both cinema and dance are arts in motion. Then I saw the film Pina by Wim Wenders. That movie was a total revelation to me. Pina Bausch is probably one of the most talented artists of the 20th century in dance, and so is Wim Wenders in cinema. The union of those two ingenious minds produced an undisputed piece of art. Pina Bausch’s work displayed on the big screen through the cinematic eye of Wim Wenders, allowed the spectator to live a visual and emotional experience – even more immersive than live theater. Cinema has the power to alter reality: lighting, camera movements and editing can add so much value to a choreographic piece. The day after I saw “Pina,” I was already looking for some dancers in town who wanted to collaborate with me on a film project. I met a dancer from NYC Ballet and made a video about him. Yet, I could not know that dance video I made was the first one of a long series I would produce in the next three years.
I wanted to create paintings in motion.
TRAILER OF “PINA”
Do you dance on your own and/or have any interest in being on the stage?
I am not a dancer but sometimes I do take some ballet classes. It is very frustrating though. I’m not very flexible, and also here in NYC you are usually surrounded by incredible professional dancers; even if you registered for a beginners’ class — when I see [these professional dancers] next to me at the barre, I just want to disappear. Working with the dancers (as a filmmaker) put my childhood dream in perspective. When I see dancers at the Joyce Theater, I still try to imagine what an experience has to be being on that stage (as a dancer, you must feel like if you were God) — I’m sure that moment is everything for a dancer. However, these days I’ve also had the opportunity to see the less amusing sides of a dancer’s life. When you dance on a very professional level, you spend your entire day in the studio; you sacrifice so much. You basically invest your entire life in this career, and if you are seriously injured, you may be forced to quit.
After being so close to a dancer’s life, I realized that at the end of the day, I’m happy I’m not a dancer (but still I can work in dance). When you are a kid, you see only the best side of a career, but as an adult I can see the bad sides — the fact I’m not a dancer doesn’t make me feel so sad.
I think we appreciate classical ballet because it allows us to admire the human body in all its perfection.
You’ve said before that you want your films to “concentrate on the movement and the body, and let them talk.” I find that fascinating. Could you elaborate on that approach a bit more?
There are different forms of dance: the less balletic ones are those I’m more interested in at the moment. (A few years ago it was the opposite; I was very attracted by pure ballet.) The audience doesn’t always understand the deeper meaning and intentions within classical ballet, unless the audience is very schooled in the art form. I think we appreciate classical ballet because it allows us to admire the human body in all its perfection — there are divine elements in a body and performance of a classical ballet dancer. Classical ballet displays the human figure at the highest level of his beauty and perfection, but still shows something that doesn’t exist in real life. When I say that movement and the body can talk by themselves I mean something different.
Particularly, I mean that just a simple movement can have the power to send a specific/clear/unequivocal message that can be understood by anyone (classical ballet not so often has this power). A body heavily falling on the ground, a deep and tight hug between two performers, a dancer aggressively covering his mouth with both hands almost like if they are preventing him to speak or breathe … if we see dance as a display of raw and simple gestures, we can really identify with it. We can see ourselves doing those gestures and we can establish a connection with dance. This is exactly what I mean when I say that I want to concentrate on the movement and the body. I want the movement and the body to send clear and recognizable messages.
We often forget we are animals and the first thing we had to communicate when we first came on earth was our body; there is so much dance in our daily life, but sometimes we just don’t know that .
I was interested in a quote of yours from IItaly.org where you said that your ultimate dream is to “make a movie where dance is the protagonist.” Are there any movies out there that are examples of this approach?
Ma, by Celia Rowlson, is a silent feature length movie, that just came out, where a modern vision of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage is narrated through the movement of the body. Despite what some people might think, it is a dance film. The director shows dance in its rawest form; you don’t get to see pirouettes, jumps, footwork. It’s not La La Land, but you see actors (who would be definitely able to do fully dance on a stage) expressing their emotions and feelings only through the use of physical movement. I wished the director would push the dance element further more and make it appear more evident.
With all this said, I don’t dislike the choice of keep the dance element on a very subtle level. In the film the dance is always present but not always you are aware of it as the line between a dance gesture and non-dance gesture in some parts can be very thin.
TRAILER OF “MA”
If you had the opportunity to work with one dancer (living or dead), who would it be?
There are so many different and talented dancers out there that it would be very difficult for me to choose one in particular. But for sure I know some choreographers I would love to work with, two in particular: Dimitris Papaioannou (from Greece) and Ohad Naharin (from Israel). Their work blows me away; these two artists are visionaries. Their vision/idea of life is translated into a dance vocabulary that literally makes me experience a journey, a feeling, a state mind. Through the use of the body and movement they visualize and physicalize ideas; it can be a feeling, a landscape, an action, without having abilities of abstraction you see these things through the dancers. Anytime I watch their work I think about how I would put it on the screen. Their work is so visually striking that would offer a filmmaker like me the excitement to be very creative by exploring the infinite ways to put it on camera.