Short Film 'While We Wait' Offers Glimpses Into the Lives of Dancers in the Pandemic | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Short Film 'While We Wait' Offers Glimpses Into the Lives of Dancers in the Pandemic

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The Quarry Project in development - COURTESY OF JULIA BARSTOW
  • Courtesy Of Julia Barstow
  • The Quarry Project in development

Like so many other events planned for 2020, The Quarry Project was felled by the pandemic. Vermont choreographer Hannah Dennison previewed her site-specific dance-theater piece for the public in August 2019, promising a fully realized performance a year later; it's now rescheduled for August 2022.

And, yes, that performance will take place in a quarry — the Wells Lamson Quarry in Websterville, to be precise. Now defunct and flooded, it forms a dramatic, granite-walled theater for the ensemble's floating stages.

Supporters who have followed the project's four-year preparation — from fundraising to rehearsals with a 33-member troupe — are familiar with the striking visuals. Think women in bright red dresses, rafts stacked with straight-backed chairs, sparkling water and that ancient, looming stone.

Montpelier-born, Brooklyn-based film director Lukas Huffman has captured all this and more in "While We Wait," which will be released publicly on February 1. The 20-minute video might mollify those disappointed by the postponement — audiences and performers alike — and help sustain interest in a performance still more than a year away.

"While We Wait" also offers glimpses into the lives of the sidelined dancers, who — like the rest of us — have been largely homebound.

Huffman doesn't take a literal approach to this material. The piece is artful, abstract and devoid of all but fragments of human speech. It is a dance of images, shot at the quarry and the homes of the dancers during lockdown. Beyond bits of expository text, the video leaves interpretation to the viewer. But the context is clear: deeply felt togetherness followed by isolation, virtual connections and hope. Andric Severance composed the film's hypnotic music.

The Quarry Project in development - COURTESY OF JULIA BARSTOW
  • Courtesy Of Julia Barstow
  • The Quarry Project in development

Huffman's job was to weave together a variety of images, from professional camera and drone footage to iPhone snippets. The overall objective was to create "a 2020 scrapbook of The Quarry Project," he said in a phone call. Huffman has worked with Dennison since filming "Dear Pina," her 2012 production at the Shelburne Farms Breeding Barn.

"This year it was so evocative to see people hugging [in the rehearsal footage]," he said. "Any other year that might have seemed trite, but they were some of the most powerful images in 2020."

Huffman's digital production studio typically works on documentary and commercial projects. "Once a year I get to do a film project with Hannah, and ... it's such a pleasure; the format can be very experimental," he said.

In a phone call from her home in Chelsea, Dennison confirmed that she gave Huffman free rein in creating "While We Wait." In her view, the purpose of the video is still evolving. "I've never done a piece that's taken this long, so it's given me time to look at it [more]," she said.

In addition to sharing the work with the public, she noted, Huffman is submitting it to film festivals. "He has more of a handle on that than I do," Dennison said. "I think we'll just spread it far and wide so people can see what we're up to."

As for the disappointment of not performing last summer, Dennison said she never thought of it as canceling, just postponing. And 2020 had its bright spots: Dennison won both the annual Herb Lockwood Prize in the Arts and the Vermont Arts Council's Walter Cerf Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts.

"While We Wait" reflects what Huffman called Dennison's "severe perseverance" even as it promises another remarkable achievement worth waiting for.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Dreaming Deep"