DIDO & AENEAS is a collaboration between Director Barbara Willis-Sweete, of Toronto’s multi-award winning Rhombus Media, and New York’s mercurial Mark Morris Dance Company.
Based on the stunning work at the heart of Morris’s canon, the directorial and design challenge was honouring Morris’s arch yet beautiful and compelling interpretation of this mythic love story, while also finding a place for it to transform from the stage into cinematic form.
In preparation for the filming, Barbara and myself attended several days of rehearsal in the company’s Manhattan studios and had extensive discussions with Mark over many weeks about how best to re-imagine the direction and design. Through these conversations with Mark Morris a ‘cinematic’ throughway became the inspiration provided by the expanse of a David Lean Cinemascope sky.Grand and wide and supranaturally gorgeous.
With Barbara and Cinematographer Milan Podsedly, I storyboarded the entire piece as a means of conveying our intentions with Mark. Things shifted as they do, once we were filming, yet it was a useful and intense part of the design/communication process.
The elevated world of Dido and Aeneas was created on the top of a stepped pyramid, situated within a massive 270-degree painted skyscape. The sky-scape was rendered in tonal shifts within the blue-grey spectrum so that it would possess a transcendent gravitas when washed with diffused front light and yet be easily modeled by the lighting designer for more specific and directional affect. The balustrade and painted floorcloth used in the original live stage performances were replicated and incorporated as part of the film set design.
With Mark Morris himself dancing the role of Dido, his wonderful company of dancers enacting his profound and erudite choreography, and some of Canada’s most luminous voices set to Tafelmusik’s matchless orchestration, being witness to the performative part of this project stands out as one of those rare and special career highs.