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Viral ballet? UNCSA's 'Swan Lake: Cancelled' racks up views online
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Viral ballet? UNCSA's 'Swan Lake: Cancelled' racks up views online

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A short film that features dancers from the School of Dance at UNC School of the Arts is getting a lot of traction online.

“Swan Lake: Cancelled” starring Deanna Cudjoe, a third-year ballet student at UNCSA, opens with Cudjoe’s character going from happy to upset when she discovers that she and other dancers won’t get to perform in a production of “Swan Lake” because it has been cancelled.

She takes her frustration out on unsuspecting dancers as she throws Swan Lake T-shirts in their direction – sometimes with a thud.

“There’s your T-shirt. For no show!” she says to one. “Just kidding!

During a hilarious meeting on Zoom, the dancers decide to turn things around.

What follows is a dance movie montage that is funny, entertaining and triumphant, as the students showcase their many talents from ballet to hip hop to the worm.

“The whole film is around Swan Lake, and what’s so great about it is we took one of the most iconic, classical ballets and we had fun taking a very irreverent look at it,” Jared Redick, interim dean of UNCSA School of Dance, said.

Gaining traction

The 6-minute short film is doing well on social media.

On Instagram, “Swan Lake: Cancelled” has 8,700 views between the @uncsa and @uncsadance accounts, “which is our all-time top-performing video on IGTV,” Lauren Whitaker, a spokeswoman for UNCSA, said.

Previously, “The Nutcracker,” an original film earned 7,500 views in December 2020.

“It also received more comments than any other IGTV video we’ve ever posted,” Whitaker said.

On Vimeo, “Swan Lake: Cancelled” has 2,100 views, which includes an embed on dancemagazine.com. Typically, for the first month after a video release, the views are about 400, Whitaker said.

“Facebook is really where this video shines, with 38.3k 3-second views and 7.9k 1-minute views,” Whitaker said of the first two weeks. “It is our top performing video of all time.”

As of May 19, “Swan Lake: Cancelled” had 38,798 views on Facebook.

“The response from our campus community and the dance world has been overwhelming,” Redick said. “I’ve gotten text messages and emails, instant messages about how it made people smile and how they felt happy and joyful watching our students.”

He said he is proud of the work done on the film because “it really represents our community, and it represents the spirit on this campus.”

Making the film

“Swan Lake: Cancelled” was written and directed by Garen Scribner, a dancer and producer, and choreographed by Danielle Rowe. Redick was the executive producer.

“I wanted to bring some levity and humor to our situation,” Redick said. “This whole year has been full of the weightiness of the pandemic.”

Redick had discussions with Scribner, a alum of the UNCSA high school ballet program, in the fall of 2020 about doing the short film.

Scribner, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., is a former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater 1. He has performed on Broadway in “An American in Paris” and has produced episodes of broadcast and streaming television for New York Public Media.

For the past four years, Scribner has been writing, producing and directing a lot of his own work while continuing to perform. He performed in a production of “La Traviata” at The Metropolitan Opera in 2019 and in 2020.

A year ago, just as the pandemic hit, Scribner and Rowe created two films – satires of two ballets – for the Australian Ballet that has garnered a lot of views, Scribner said.

“I love creating these satires of ballets, specifically for film and dancers, who normally don’t get a chance to act on camera to try something new,” Scribner said.

Redick said he saw one of their films and thought it was funny, ingenious and joyful.

“I was like, ‘I want that for our students,” Redick said. “I want our community to have the same feeling as we’re rolling into the end of the year. They pitched me the script and we looked at it and did auditions with the students.”

For “Swan Lake: Cancelled,” Scribner wrote the script and came up with an idea and a structure. Then he and Rowe worked with the 15-member cast entirely over Zoom to help develop their characters.

Still, the script was tailored to the individual students, who were a mix of UNCSA high school and college, as well as ballet and contemporary dance students.

Cudjoe said the first rehearsal on Zoom was interesting.

“Usually, you do these things in person, but we were doing it through Zoom,” Cudjoe said. “It was surprisingly very interactive. I felt like they were there with me. They felt very present, and it helped me be very present in the process. I think it made it more comfortable in the end.”

Although all the students came together for the closing of the film, they self-taped the rest of it individually, including the Zoom meeting, then sent the footage to Scribner and Rowe to cut and put together the film.

When the students came together, Scribner directed over Zoom while Redick and Brian Gibbs, another alum of UNCSA, worked on site with the students at UNCSA.

Cudjoe said one of her favorite parts was walking through campus in the opening and throwing T-shirts.

“It was such a fun experience, just finding ways to have fun and express it the best way I could,” she said.

She loves the ending.

“Even though it was funny and fun, it was also a very symbolic moment,” Cudjoe said. “Despite everything that has happened, especially for the performing arts industry, we really did come together to find joy in the beauty of dancing with one another.”

336-727-7366

@fdanielWSJ

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