Dubstep & ballet surrender to “Enemy Within”

Put a viral dubstepping star in a room with a top-tier ballerina and music by a hiphop emcee and what do you get? Here’s a teaser:

A daring and appealing short film called “Enemy Within” brings Marquese “Nonstop” Scott–the ingeniously slinky YouTube sensation–together with New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, Matthew Rushing, the soulful and revered veteran of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and up-and-comer Samantha Figgins of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The 18-minute film dramatizes the struggle with insecurity that even master dancers such as these face.

One of the biggest dancers in Internet history, nervous? One of the leading ballerinas in the country, soon to star in the new musical “Little Dancer”: a self-doubter? No one knows nerves like dancers, no matter if they’re in high tops or pointe shoes. Though the rest of us may want to move like dancers and look like dancers, the performers themselves don’t always feel so enviable. “We are some of the most insecure beings on this planet,” says Rushing in this interview:

Yet the chief struggle on the set of “Enemy Within” wasn’t anxiety or footwear. It was the choreography.

Scott, a street dancer, isn’t really a five-six-seven-eight type of guy. He doesn’t go for choreo; his motto is: “It’s not me, it’s the song that dances.” So getting this improvisational artist in synch with the others wasn’t easy.

It felt like the NBA, says Preston Miller, an Ailey-trained dancer who conceived and choreographed the film. “When you watch the All-Star game it’s very different from watching LeBron and Kobe on their own teams,” he says. “You’re watching giants learn each other for the first time and then get excited about each other. Bells were going off. It was cool to see them steal from each other.”

“Enemy Within” unfolds purely through dancing, atmosphere and music by the Seattle duo Spekulation and Nate Omdal. After screening at a few festivals, the film, directed by David Anderson, is available on iTunes. Which is kind of perfect: Miller hopes that Scott’s million-plus YouTube subscribers and fans of his irresistible Coke commercial will discover the film and simultaneously discover an appreciation for ballet and modern dance. Same goes for fans of Peck and Rushing. “Enemy Within’s” genre-bending vision of dance feels just right for this age of collaboration and sharing economies. It’s all about being open to new experiences, people!

Here is Scott talking about working with the other dancers and performing one of the most beautiful riffs on a classic that you could ever wish for. It’s his version of the “Sinner Man” section from the Ailey work “Revelations”:

But while “Enemy Within” is great fun, what we’d really like to see are the outtakes. “I have footage of Marquese trying to teach Matthew how to pump his leg and do a full-body vibration,” says Miller. “And Matthew was putting a port de bras into it; it was way too pretty. Then Tiler was trying to teach Marquese how to do bourrees on pointe. …I don’t think Marquese realized how connected they were. He calls them toe spins, but for us they’re attitude turns.

“What I realized is, it’s not what technique you choose to do, but how hard you choose to work at it.”

Miller is now working on a second, longer film, with a different cast. “Hollywood gets something right in terms of how they tell stories,” he says. But most dance movies–think “Black Swan,” or the “Step Up” franchise–put the story first, and the dancing is added later. Miller wants to find a way to pair film’s storytelling techniques with choreography: “They can live together.”

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, black boxes, folding chairs and dive bars, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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