Adaptation of acclaimed production receives world premiere in 360° cinema

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Pal o' Me Heart, a short film adaptation of Welsh dance company Earthfall's award-winning stage production At Swim Two Boys, is currently premiering at the Edinburgh Festival in a portable 360° cinema.

I found out a bit more about the short from Jim Ennis and Jessica Cohen, who are joint artistic directors at Earthfall.

I understand Pal o' Me Heart was filmed on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Can you tell us where exactly and why the location was chosen?

Earthfall and Coreo Cymru's short film, Pal o' Me Heart, was shot in and around the Abereiddi Beach, Porthgain and harbour, near the Blue Lagoon in Pembrokeshire, as well as in Cardiff and Newport.

The area around the Blue Lagoon was perfect in replicating what would have been the two boys' visits (escapes and escapades) to the sea, and the '40 Foot' in Dublin, from Jamie O'Neill's original novel. Cardiff and Newport provided locations for early 20th century cityscapes and civic images of government and power.

Filming Pal o' Me Heart in Pembrokeshire. Photo: Janire Najera

I understand the dancers performed both in and out of the water. Can you tell me a bit more about the challenges of asking them to do this and why you chose to set it that way?

Pal o' Me Heart is based on Earthfall's award-winning live production of At Swim Two Boys, the latter of which was adapted in collaboration with the author Jamie O' Neill from his acclaimed novel. In Earthfall's live production (first performed in 2004) the action takes place in water throughout the performance. This decision was made as the essential part of the characters' developing relationship and events take place when they go to the sea to swim.

Earthfall also wanted the challenge of creating a choreographic piece in water akin to their work, Girl Standing by the Lake, performed at Cardiff Coal Exchange on 4.5 tonnes of coal!

The water provoked a new way of physical interaction and risk-taking which was high impact and incredibly exciting for an audience. The dancers had to discover different ways of attacking and exploiting the performance surface, as when they jumped, dived and landed, they continued aquaplaning across the performance space.

What is it about the piece that lends itself to being shown in the 360° "Dance Dome"? What sort of experience does it offer viewers?

Earthfall's live performance was essentially edited and adapted for the Dance Dome and provides different demands on an audience. The audience is in a semi-reclined position, as in a planetarium, and the film takes place all around them in a 360° environment.

The Dance Dome in Oxford. Photo: Janire Najera

The choreography and action is adapted to take place in the sea, on the beach, in the harbour, on the cliff-face and in the city streets, so we had to rework selected parts of the original elements from the live performance to adapt to the locations and the demands of 360° filming.

There are certainly challenges for the audience and us, the filmmakers. This form of presenting dance and physical performance on film is in its infancy. Close-ups are difficult as the image becomes distorted; the viewers have to be aware of a wider surround viewing screen as we are all so attuned to flat-screen cinema.

Nature looks very strong in this medium, and for Earthfall, the challenge was to get a narrative across to the viewer, as that was something we thought was important for the viewer in this medium. 

Are the dancers that star in the short film the same as those who starred in the original production about?

Daniel Connor and Murilo Leite are the dancers featured in the Pal o' Me Heart film and they starred in Earthfall's live production. The revised soundtrack is composed by Earthfall's Sion Orgon and Frank Naughton.

Filming in City Hall in Cardiff. Photo: Janire Najera

What have you kept from the original production and what have you changed?

The choreography has been altered and adapted to exploit the nature, surroundings and physical features of the locations. We have the beauty of the Welsh landscape embracing and provoking the action. The strength of the boys' developing love and the integrity and strength of the choreography and narrative we have tried to keep intact. The rest is about editing the essential moments for the viewer - we had to make a 20 minute short film from a 65 minute live performance, originally adapted from a 1,000 page novel.

Do you have any plans to bring the film and the Dance Dome to audiences in Wales?

Plans are certainly being made to show the film in Cardiff and hopefully other parts of Wales to be confirmed.

Who directed Pal o' Me Heart?

It was directed by us - Earthfall's Jim Ennis and Jessica Cohen - and we also created and directed the live performance. We previously won a Bafta Cymru Award for Best Short Film, in collaboration with Paul Ilswyn Thomas, for our film Too Old To Dream and this is our sixth film. The team behind Pal o' Me Heart also included Justin Duval on 360° camera and Mathew Kistenmacher as Key-grip, two essential members of the team brought over from LA.

Pal o' Me Heart will be presented by the Dance Dome in association with Dance Base at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh between 19 and 26 August.

It is being shown alongside The Beautiful, an immersive metaphysical journey through some of the landscapes of South Wales choreographed by Tanja Raman, and The Sublime. This features site-specific live captured sequences of parkour and break-dance shot within the natural and urban spaces of Wales and is choreographed by Sandra Harnisch-Lacey and set to an original composition by Luke Harney.

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