Heather Desaulniers

I attempted to make homemade gnocchi once. It didn’t go well. My tiny galley kitchen with zero counter space was not cooperative. I don’t exactly remember what we ate for dinner that night, but I do know it wasn’t gnocchi. Fast forward a decade, and I confronted the elusive behemoth once again, and this time the result was both successful and delicious.

John Speed Orr and Terez Dean Orr in
Recipe for Disaster

Now you might be wondering how food preparation intersects with movement and choreography. To discover one answer, check out Recipe for Disaster, a new dance short from Terez Dean Orr, John Speed Orr and Elliott Bastien Morin, filmed entirely on phones and virtual chat platforms during shelter-in-place. In its brief two plus minutes, the audience is treated to a fun, flirty union of the culinary and the choreographic. As married couple Terez Dean Orr, a company dancer with Smuin Ballet, and John Speed Orr, formerly with Smuin from 2009-2013, stride and slide around their kitchen space, sinuous intention and bold shapes abound. Stylistic moves meet with familiar everyday tasks – vegetables are chopped and cocktails are shaken while arabesque, passé and lunges pepper the physical conversation. And then, faced with an ingredient void, they take to the streets, leaping and turning. But have they forgotten about something at home? Tune in and find out. Charming and cool, sexy and sharp, Recipe for Disaster is the group’s second foray into the dance short scene, a follow-up to the more cerebral, measured Shelter in Pace. Somber, clock-like motions imbue much of its meditative choreography – indeed a perfect metaphor for where we all find ourselves today. We mark time, but differently. We wait. We adapt. Both films are standout examples of how the dance community is navigating the current crisis with its innovation and boundless creativity. Theaters, rehearsal spaces and studios may be empty right now, but artists are doing what they have always done – honing their craft, pushing boundaries, upending assumptions and experimenting with newness.

I caught up with the engaging trio via Zoom to find out more about their process and what ideas they have percolating for the future. 

How did these new film projects come about?

JSO: Elliott and I actually met back in kindergarten, and randomly reconnected a few years ago in the Castro, where we all live. We’ve always talked about wanting to do a project together, and on the night before the full shelter-in-place shutdown, we went out for a drink and again discussed working on something. Elliott really followed up from there.

EBM: Things were becoming really serious with COVID. I’m a commercial filmmaker and I was seeing contract after contract drop. I could feel myself getting antsy and restless and I needed to try to stay productive and creative in some capacity. So it seemed the ideal time to try a collaborative project together. Early on, we realized that, because of the severity of the situation, we weren’t going to be able to be in one place at the same time, so we decided to figure out a new way to experiment with the dance film genre. 

TDO: Everything was taken away so quickly, and as artists and dancers, it’s easy to wallow in the pain of not performing. But to have the opportunity to jump into a project, with a dear friend who we’ve always wanted to collaborate with – it put such a positive perspective on a not so ideal situation.

What was the process of filming like? 

JSO: I had an iphone – an iphone and a dream! It was for sure trial and error. I would use books to prop up the phone to get low shots. I also had a tripod, but it didn’t have a grip on it to hold the phone in place. The entire first video [Shelter in Pace] is shot with the phone balanced precariously on the tripod. For one scene in the hallway, I duct-taped the whole set-up to the wall and tried to angle it down to get the frame right. Definitely a learning curve, but things ended up working out. We would send the recordings to Elliott and he began crafting narratives. Then he would come back with a list of additional details, angles and shots that he wanted. He did just a phenomenal job in creating a narrative arc for each film.

Terez Dean Orr and John Speed Orr in
Recipe for Disaster

TDO: For the second film [Recipe for Disaster], we were dancing in the street a lot so that meant navigating traffic. We would run outside with the tripod between 9:00 and 10:00am to do the sequence that crosses the street and would quickly scurry out of the way when any cars came by.

EBM: It’s kind of extreme ballet – when you’re onstage, you don’t have to worry about getting run over by a Prius.

Any other challenges or surprises that you encountered in making the films? 

Terez Dean Orr and John Speed Orr in
Shelter in Pace

TDO: One of the biggest challenges, at least on the dancing side, was how narrow the space was [much of the filming was done in and around their home]. There were times when it was dodgy for sure – navigating our hallway in Shelter in Pace, trying not to fall down the stairs or break the banister. Filming outside for Recipe for Disaster did bring some lovely moments of connection. People passing by would stop and applaud or ask questions about what we were doing – it felt like we were adding a little happiness and joy to our community. But there were also surprises. In one of the outdoor parts, I do a turn into John’s arms. This one woman stopped her car, and said “you cannot go to the hospital right now!” 

JSO: And not everything cooperated 100% of the time. For example, in the kitchen part of Recipe for Disaster, the flame on the stove gets lit. I actually turned on the stove every time we did it and half the time it wouldn’t totally light. But we wanted to get that authenticity – and I think that somehow it comes through we were really doing the various tasks shown.

Let’s talk a bit about those tasks in Recipe for Disaster, who had the idea of pairing cooking and choreography together?

EBM: The cooking was a vehicle to work with a different space in their home, a space we hadn’t previously used. To show our audience somewhere different. So I thought, let’s do something in the kitchen, and from there we didn’t look back. John came up with fantastic ways to incorporate choreography into a kitchen environment – he did a remarkable job. 

How would you describe the choreographic style in the films?

JSO: I haven’t really choreographed much in my career, but I had a couple of movement phrases that I was putting together for my students [at RoCo Dance in Mill Valley]. It just so happened that they were ‘in place’ and more upper body-focused. Turns out that it fit really well, not just how it related to the overall situation, but for setting within a San Francisco apartment. Beyond that, when we started on our first Zoom call, I wasn’t totally sure what we were going to do. 

EBM: That was the brilliance and the fun of it – there were no rules. It’s not pretentious and I think people see that.

JSO: Gestural and accessible choreography was important. We had no idea what kind of reach the films would get, but we wanted the movement to be relatable to anyone who was viewing it, whether a casual viewer or a dancer.

TDO: The response was that folks could dance with us. It was simple choreography that anyone could pick up, and people were dancing after viewing, even my great-aunt, who’s 92. That was really special. We wanted to keep it fun and attainable. 

While Recipe for Disaster comes off as light-hearted, I wondered if there were some deeper layers there too?

EBM: There aren’t a million layers of depth here, though we are clearly making reference to the escape one can find through movement, as well as the presence of distraction in the age of chaos that we currently live in. Distracting yourself amidst this disaster. And then there’s the narrative connection between the two films. We meet these two characters in the first film at the beginning of shelter-in-place and now, we’re checking back in with them to see how their lives have changed two months in. 

Is there a next project on the horizon?

TDO: We’re definitely talking about it. And thinking about a very different vibe and intention – possibly incorporating a car that John rebuilt during COVID. To be continued.

Last thoughts?

TDO: The support in the performing arts right now has been so lovely – such amazing encouragement from our fellow artists in the dance and visual arts communities.

EBM: In editing the films, I feel like I’ve hung out with John and Terez for the last two months. I’ve had the chance to see their faces most days – over Zoom and in all the film takes, including all the stuff that didn’t end up getting used. That’s been cool.

John Speed Orr in
Shelter in Pace

JSO: What I’ve loved about this project is having the opportunity to do something I had never really done before. It speaks to, how we, and dance, can adapt. In the fine arts and concert dance, there’s long been a conversation about relevance, pivoting to digital platforms and how that might dilute the form. But now the dance community has had to make a drastic change and embrace a different way of getting their art to people. It’s a little silver lining that I see – I hope that companies continue to reach out the way they have during this time.

View the films at:
Shelter in Pace https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ICkouctBAU
Recipe for Disaster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W1pU_uZaCA

For info on future projects, follow 3Motion Creative on instagram @3motion_creative