Filmmaker Addison Wright turns his lens on an inspiring Chicago dance troupe in Hiplet, and hopes his films will open hearts and eyes
Addison wright Hiplet: Because we can is part of the Scene In Color film series, presented by Target, which showcases incredible filmmaking skills. As part of the series, three emerging filmmakers will receive mentorship from producer Will Packer, and their films can be viewed on Rotten Tomatoes, MovieClips Indie Channel, Peacock and the NBC app.
They have the “sexy walk”; âThe pretzel; Â»Â« The dougie; “” La Viviane. ” These are not 1950s overtones. These are the dance moves performed by a special Chicago-based ballet company. Founded by Homer Hans Bryant, hiplet is a combination of hip-hop and traditional ballet performed with a dizzying and intoxicating effect by a collection of incredible local dancers. Director Addison Wright, another Chicago native, decided to make a film about these viral sensations after discovering the cast on Instagram. His eight-minute documentary short, Hiplet: Because we can, was an official selection at the 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival, later became a Vimeo staff choice, and is now part of the Scene in color film series.
Wright’s film, titled after the dance, fuses a choreographed music video feel with precise documentary style for a vivid exploration of this invigorating new style of movement. While the performers’ movements speak for themselves – their swaggering strides texturize their powerful and beautiful black forms, mesmerizing the setting with a fearless spirit – Wright interviews them as well. The exuberant ballerinas explain the retreat they experienced in a world classically defined by whites for their unique artistic identity, varied body types and blackness.
In Hiplet, Wright takes an immersive and empathetic look at these talented women. He shows great agility in the making of his films, capturing the ballet motifs of the dancers while oscillating between striking colorful compositions and equally magnetic black and white filmed interviews. Hiplet is not only an exhilarating introduction to an evolving new style of ballet, but the perfect launching pad displaying Wright’s fresh and confident voice.
Here, Wright chats with Robert Daniels, a Chicago-based Tomatometer-approved Top Critic.
Robert Daniels for Rotten Tomatoes: How did you first get to the movies?
Addison Wright: I grew up in the 90s, so I was glued to the TV watching MTV and BET. I’ve always been fascinated by music videos and by directors like Hype Williams and Spike Jonze, and Little X. So I knew early on that I had a passion for it. I went to Simeon High School in Chicago, where I played football for four years. I ended up getting a scholarship to Delaware State University. I played football there and my specialty was TV production. I didn’t have a camera in high school or anything like that, but once I got to college I realized this was something I wanted to pursue.
I ended up injuring myself during my first year in college. So I didn’t play football, but the team wanted me to be around so I traveled and filmed practices and games. When there was no practice or game, I would borrow the camera and shoot clips on campus. That’s when I started learning how to build stories in music videos. So I would take some of the things I had learned in some of my classes and apply them to my videos. This is where my passion started.
(Photo by Addison Wright)
Daniels: Where and when the idea of Hiplet first form?
Wright: I was on Instagram and on my Explore page I saw these black ballerinas doing ballet a little differently. So I clicked on it and heard the music and saw them in the dance studio and thought these girls were nuts. I was scrolling up and started seeing them over and over again. So I researched Hiplet ballet flats online and saw some of the ads they were in like the Old Navy and Mercedes-Benz ads and featured in Japan and other places. Then I saw that they were based here in Chicago and I was like, whoa that’s a story to be told.
At the beginning, the concept was that I would make a full clip of them. I wanted to shoot it at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago because it was a white establishment a hundred years ago. And I want to put black girls in this beautiful cultural center, and let them do their thing in a place they couldn’t have been a hundred years ago. But once we got the cost of renting that space back, I knew we couldn’t do it.
So we ended up finding a gym on the south side, the Grand Ballroom, which is at 64th and Cottage Grove. You won’t even notice it if you drive or walk past, but if you look up you can see the beautiful terracotta. The story grew when I went, at least once a week, to the studio to film the girls and watch them rehearse and practice just to see how they move and see their personalities so that I get to know different angles and areas. to watch out for. . Homer, he’s the founder of Hiplet, and I was having a casual conversation and he told me how these girls were going through. Every time they post something online, people laugh at them, but these same people are imitating what they are doing. He comes from the dance community. People of different races look at them and see that they don’t do traditional ballet, so they talk about it. So I decided to give the girls the floor: we are going to film them, but we are also going to let them talk about the adversity they often encounter. This is what changed the film’s path a bit being a music video. That’s what made me realize how much I wanted it to be a short film and a documentary, but with the feel of a music video.
Daniels: How long did the shoot take?
Wright: Filming took about 12 hours a day. We started charging around eight in the morning and wrapped up with the girls around eight in the evening. It was a bit longer for us, but the girls were there all day. It was a lot of rehearsals. When the girls arrived they knew what they needed and we knew what we needed to do regarding the installation of the lights and the blocking.
Daniels: I want to go back to blocking. I think what’s great about your movie is that you can feel the energy of the dance. How did you get to this point where you got the right angles to bring the live energy to the camera?
Wright: My DP, Dan Frantz, and I would go to the studio where the girls were rehearsing and we would film some parts of the performance. It was a month before the shoot. We would sit down and determine the best angle for the camera location and lighting patterns. We also went to the ballroom and took some photos. I knew where I wanted to place the girls. I knew some of the angles I wanted to achieve based on their choreography. But it was a collaboration between him and me.
We were rushing against the clock to get some things as we only had the location for one day. But my goal was to really capture the energy of ballerinas. Make sure they make eye contact. Whenever the camera came in I made sure to tell them to interact with the camera. If he is near you, look at the lens, look through as if you are on stage and someone is looking you in the eye in a crowd. The camera is the crowd.
Daniels: And now your film is part of the Scene in color film series. How did you hear about this opportunity and what attracted you?
Wright: Funny, I didn’t know until they contacted me. And I was completely blown away. Even when talking about it right now, I’m still in shock because it’s all surreal. They said they saw the movie and really loved it. And I was like: me, really? It’s great that they like the movie. About three weeks later they gave me the details and I thought it was amazing. I remember making the movie public in February on Vimeo and it ended up becoming a Vimeo staff choice and then went viral. A month later, NBC contacted me.
Daniels: How do you feel about having a producer like Will Packer as a mentor?
Wright: It’s an amazing feeling to have someone who is a powerhouse within the industry and within the black community as a mentor. Even hearing me say that, it seems unreal. Just being able to choose your brain and having the ability to ask what to do in this situation, in certain situations, or do you think it’s a good idea, can only help my career in an extremely positive way. Maybe he can give some insight into his experience. He may be able to point me in a direction that could give me more visibility. I’m extremely excited to just be able to chat with him.
Daniels: What advice or advice has Will given you so far?
Wright: I asked him what is his favorite movie that he has ever made, the one that left him the most memories. He said Crush the yard. In short, he wanted to make this film to inspire people. Being able to hear that from him lets me know I’m doing the right thing. My goal as a filmmaker is to inspire people through the lens. And if that can’t change the world, at least I’ll open a person’s eyes. Will also said that he enjoyed the movie and that I was where I was supposed to be. To hear that as a promising filmmaker, as a black filmmaker, you know, hearing Will Packer say I’m where I’m supposed to be, it’s extremely crazy, man. It overwhelmed me. It solidified me as a filmmaker in my eyes and in my heart.
Daniels: What do you hope people take away from Hiplet?
Wright: I was born and raised in Chicago, and Chicago always has a negative light on us. I want people to be able to see these black girls on TV, on their phones and on their computers to see how, number one, beautiful they are; number two, how they take the ballet in a totally different direction by not changing the ballet but adding a touch to it. I want it to be motivating for black boys and girls to see someone who looks like you, who does something that changes the world of ballet by making a difference.
See more short films and meet more filmmakers from Scene in the color film series.