Dress Rehearsal

"A dancer attends the final rehearsal before a show’s opening."

Dress Rehearsal is a remarkable short film by French artist Marie Fayt about a budding dancer with self-sabotaging traits who attends a final rehearsal before the opening of a dance spectacle. The short was produced as a graduation project during the artist’s studies at Lyon-based École Émile Cohl.

Three distinct characters plus a crowd of supporting ones, internal and external conflicts, and an accent on dance, choreography and slapstick humor are the main elements of Dress Rehearsal (“Répétition Générale”).

Staged in Paris sometime in the past, in a cabaret’s exterior and interior, the short employs a stylized aesthetic with good effort dedicated to characters, environments, stage design, outfits, props, animation and choreography, which points to the amount of research done on the subject. Dress Rehearsal is a notably ambitious project for just one artist, and the result is outstanding.

Narrated from the point of view of Cerise, the main dancer character, the short effectively transmits her subjective state and the pressures she goes through as she navigates the antagonistic environment of the dance group. Flash-forwards are employed frequently to describe the internal thoughts of Cerise, raising subjectivity in narration. A change to a darker color palette during her vivid “typewriter job nightmares” helps identify these type of shots later on. Flash-forward images on occasion fill the frame and other times are embedded within the frame (in the character’s eyes or a mirror, for example).

Physical humor abounds. The first collision between characters takes place 9 seconds into the film. Cerise’s arrival in a hurry sets the stage for what’s to come. As the film progresses chaos grows, transforming the show into a comedy of errors. A disruptive dancer on the loose in what is supposed to be the precision mechanism of a dance company offers good opportunities for comedy, which the director potentiates with over-the-top situations in which the group of dancers functions as amplifier.

Visual rhythm is high, handled through editing, camera moves (pans, tilts, zooms), transitions (fades), motion within the frame, etc. Ellipses abound, the film shines in its economical storytelling and use of sensory images. Wider camera framing is employed often, with ample use of group shots. Full shots are used to better convey the dance moves and capture characters’ postures. Tighter shots are employed to convey their expressions or focus on important parts of the plot (such as Cerise forgetting to put on the dancing shoes). Iconography includes plenty of elements from theater and dance spectacles (dressing rooms, outfits, related staging, dance, choreography, etc.).

What makes Dress Rehearsal work so well? Strong conflicts, effective directing with economical storytelling, playful staging, highly expressive character with self-sabotaging traits, creative use of surprise with over-the-top slapstick humor and a portrait of a struggling underdog who succeeds through comedy that will appeal to a wide audience.

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