The Widow’s Waltz – A Dance Short Film

by Marypublished on July 2, 2021
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“The Widow’s Waltz” is a dance-based short film that I wrote back in 2007. I have revised it and attempted to make it several times over the years, but the essence has always been the same: a young, grieving widow dances in the graveyard with the spirit or memory of her deceased husband. She never looks at or acknowledges his presence in the cemetery. She works through her memories and grief by revisiting their wedding day dance, and ultimately collapses on the ground, unable to find consolation.

My first notes for the idea included the deceased husband playing a violin that causes her to dance, but I had trouble finding the right person who could both play the violin convincingly and dance at the skill level I wanted. I also struggled with music, trying to find a piece that I could get rights to use. I developed the initial concepts based on “Ricordare” (the main theme from the movie “A Pure Formality) by Ennio Morricone, as performed by Yo Yo Ma, but I always knew that it was just temp music.

In 2009, I met with my friends John Graham and Krista Treu, and we spent a few sessions in the ballet room downstairs in the Richards Building at BYU, beginning to develop some choreography to the piece. That version of the dance never was finished, mostly because I unexpectedly moved back to Washington at the end of that summer, so the project sat on the shelf for another few years. (That same creative partnership led to another short film, “Time Withers,” choreographed by our friend Elisha Thompson, which was released a few years later.)

Over the years since 2009, I approached several accomplished ballroom couples about doing this project. Some understood what I was trying to do but didn’t have resources to make it happen with me, while others never caught the vision and turned me down. I was very particular about casting the piece, since I wanted a partnership featuring man who could be made to look like a spiritual apparition or specter, and a woman who could express grief and do a fair amount of acting during the dance itself.

Eventually, I found myself teaching at Pacific Ballroom Dance, and two of the students there, Evelyn and Nathan, began working with Monique Hrouda to develop some American Smooth choreography that included a Waltz that impressed me. I was impressed by Nathan’s strength and Evelyn’s ability to express herself deeply through the movement. I asked them if they’d like to film a crazy project with me and they agreed! We threw it together on shockingly short notice, due to difficult scheduling constraints, so we adapted Monique’s choreography that they already had in place from competition season. I used some temp music during filming, just to set the right mood and get the tempo correct (we used a live recording of “The Crane Dance” by Ludovico Einaudi). They did fantastic work in pre-production and production, and it was a joy to work with these talented young dancers.

During this process, I had began to hunt for a composer. At some point, I learned that my High School theater friend, Andrew Joslyn (also an incredible violinist, ballroom dancer, and film composer) was a huge fan of Ennio Morricone. I asked him if he’d be interested in creating something similar to an existing Morricone piece, and his answer was “hell yes!”

I edited the piece together, let it sit for a weekend, revised it, let it sit for a few days, revised it again, and repeated that cycle dozens of times until I was eventually satisfied with the cut. With projects like these, that have been in the mind for so long, it can be hard to ever be satisfied – nothing tangible ever quite lives up to a mental vision that has been growing for a decade into an impossibly perfect work of non-existent mental art. I continually had to remind myself that it’s better to have an good film showing on screens than a perfect one that never is finished.

Andrew sent me his score and I loved it immediately. He captured the essence of what I hoped for, and took it far beyond what I was able to envision. His task was incredibly difficult – he essentially had to reverse-choreograph the dance based on the uneven tempo of a temp track that had been recorded live – but he completely knocked it out of the ballpark. I told him that I had no changes at all, which seemed to shock him (we’re all kind of used to clients who always want to change something, no matter how many revisions we’ve created at that point). He asked me for a little more time to spend on audio mixing, and I soon had a beautiful final product in my inbox. Now that it’s finally finished, I hope that some audience members are able to be touched by this piece in some way. It took a long time to materialize, but I wouldn’t change a step in this creative process!

Enjoy it! Garrett Gibbons, director