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Modern choreography and music by Leontovych: How Anatolii Sachivko and the Apache Crew made a film-ballet ‘Vodurudu’

‘Vodurudu’ is the only Ukrainian film-ballet for big screens. The film combines classical music by Mykola Leontovych with modern choreography by the Apache Crew. Its main choreographer, and now director, Anatolii Sachivko, decided to show that the composer, who is known worldwide for his Christmas hit ‘Shchedryk, wrote much more than just a well-known composition from ‘Home Alone’. It’s symbolic that the film was filmed only in winter for 5 years, and Kyiv-based electronic musician Dmytro Avksentiev (Koloah, Voin Oruwu) was responsible for restoring Leontovych’s sound and musical atmosphere.

‘Vodurudu’ teaser

‘Vodurudu’ premiered at the Odesa International Film Festival (OIFF) in the summer and now the director is preparing for distribution in other cities. However, the new re-mounted version can be seen for free as early as December 17 at the House of Cinema in Kyiv.

On the eve of the Kyiv premiere, DTF Magazine asked the director about how and why he made this film at his own expense, why he calls it intuitive, as well as about his compositional findings, starvation during filming, and what other films about choreography are worth seeing

— The film premiered back in the summer at the Odesa International Film Festival (OIFF), but we meet in December, four days before the first film screening in Kyiv. It’s a film with music by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych, who wrote the most famous Christmas hit. Did you plan from the beginning to release it in December, on Christmas Eve?

— It all came together. I combined Leontovych’s birthday — December 13 — and the Apache Crew’s birthday when I finalized the film. I had been working on the film for five years and every winter I felt it would be cool to see it with the crew, but the film wasn’t ready then.

We announced the film screening in a week, because we only now managed to negotiate a cinema deal. The distribution was planned for next year, but we are still interested in festivals. I want the distribution to happen in January, but I don’t have any information about the distribution yet.

Anatolii Sachivko | Photo: (here and below) by Kateryna Yanyuk, specially for DTF Magazine

— You didn’t submit the final version of the film to the Kinokolo film critics’ award (a film award from Ukrainian film critics — Note from DTF Magazine) and to Odesa. You didn’t have time to finish the film, right?

— We were supposed to shoot the last scene by the end of May, but the cameraman came to Kyiv at the beginning of June and the filming process was shifted to the 14th and we had to submit it to OIFF by June 15. So there was one day to submit the film. I took the responsibility and the courage to give what I had. What will be, will be. I warned, and said it wasn’t the final version.

— Why was the idea of ‘Vodurudu’ realized through a full meter, and not in the format of a video clip or short meter?

— Everything started out as a short format. We were recording our condition, character, and developments when we shot the first scene in 2016. I was a little scared when I saw the material after the first shoot, because I hadn’t done something like this before. I really liked the result and felt it could be a music video.

But I was looking for information to supplement the visual part. A year went by, and I thought we could finish shooting some movements and visuals, so we started a tradition. We would shoot one scene every winter. It could have been one or two shots, but everyone involved in the filming process is more free every year in the winter because the dancers are freelancers and their time is taken up with important things and travels.

— Why did you use Leontovych’s music in the film?

— Over the years of filming I analyzed the situation and came to the conclusion that it should be Leontovych, so all the compositions for the film I chose according to the atmosphere. It’s like a fitting — you turn on a composition and an episode and feel that they coincide in design and character. Dmytro Avksentiev (Koloah) also did a great job in the film, creating the musical moods and restoring the sound of Leontovych, transferred from the record.

I used ritual songs that were sung specifically during the transition from winter to spring. We also filmed when winter transitions into spring. It’s a state when it’s hard to be in Kyiv and you get tired of winter. You get depressed if you don’t do anything good.

— When did it become clear that the film was complete, if you filmed every winter and added something to it each time?

— I’m very glad I’m over the “more, more, more” moment. I was really looking forward to it, and it didn’t end for years.

Last September I had to decide whether to work at the opera or go work as a choreographer in the Carpathians to shoot one scene in a movie. In opera there is a lot of work and the salary is such that you can feel confident for a year. I understand that I will do there what I did not really like in the first approach, but in the Carpathians I will be with a friend and cameraman Mykyta Kuzmenko, who shoots film, and I can work on my film. There was a quarantine, not much work, and I turned down an offer that could have kept me financially secure. It wasn’t easy, but instead of an opera, I chose a film in which I was invited to work as choreographer.

In September of this year, I got a story that was worth the five-year journey. The OIFF ended, I left for Kyiv, and it was emotionally hard after the full feature film. I came home on June 15, the festival screening of the film was on August 20, and the OIFF opening was on August 14. And it just so happened that from June 15 to August 14 I didn’t have any job offer that could give me money. It wasn’t easy because I had spent everything on the last shoot, I didn’t even have anything to eat. It was hard to think about.

I found myself in a position where I couldn’t get a job at Glovo, because then it would take a lot of time and I wouldn’t have time to finish the film before OIFF. I was sitting at home, I had friends helping me, bringing me food, sending 300—500 UAH to my card. I cooked buckwheat with lentils and oatmeal. I even thought that it would be cool not to eat anything, to have more time, but then I get hungry and there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to eat something, because that’s the first need.

The Odesa Film Festival was the first work since June 14. We performed on stage with the team, and it was important because we had never performed publicly during the quarantine. I was working on the film, shooting commercials and music videos, but there were no stage performances.

The OIFF ended and we did a dance camp in the Carpathians in September. The actor Sasha (one of the employees of the Apache Crew. — Note from DTF Magazine) came to us and said that he met a company like ours in the Carpathians. Sasha was talking to a guy with a dog and asked where he was from. It turned out that they both lived in Lukyanivka (a district of Kyiv — Note from DTF Magazine). Sasha told him that we were in Odesa, showing a film, and the guy replied that he’d also been to the festival and had gone to the cinema with his mother to see ‘Vodurudu’. “That’s ours”, Sasha says. The dude pulls out his cell phone, “Listen, I liked one scene so much. I got it on my phone”. And there was a scene where Sanya was dancing solo.

That is, the guy shot a “bootleg video” at a movie theater and in the Carpathians met the man who was in the video. He didn’t recognize him, because Sanyok had more hair and was wearing a hat. A year after the decision about the Carpathians, I got this feedback that an unknown man shows my actor friend my film shot on his phone.

— Mykola Leontovych has become a symbol of Christmas in pop culture. During and after filming, what do you associate him with?

— He became a musical father to me. I would sing his music if I could sing. I hear Leontovych everywhere. He can be felt in all the compositions related to choral singing. It’s not just ‘Home Alone’, but also ‘Harry Potter’.

His works have bold authorial solutions combined in his voice. He is called the father of Ukrainian musical culture, who inspired the whole world. This year is the 100th anniversary of his death. And it coincided with the fact that we have finished the film. It’s also his birthday today [the interview was recorded on December 13, — Note from DTF Magazine].

There are no interviews or films about Leontovych this year, but it’s very important and I want to hear something about him. We have a slightly different story.

We created a visual world that complemented that voice. I realized that the self-sufficiency of the dance and the voice merged to become something whole. We made a visual image of the voice, and the voice helped us.

We were able to complement each other, but I would continue to work with this music and find interesting solutions how to introduce people to his work.

— Do you think that your film can change the perception of Leontovych?

— I heard such thoughts. Like, thank you for introducing us to Leontovych. And I’m very glad that there are such thoughts. I was told that it would not be easy for people to watch that (laughs) when I was sharing material with the focus group. I’m not trying to make it easy or difficult for them to watch. I do it sensually, intuitively, sincerely.

Not everyone likes the best movies either. I’m cool with that, and I don’t want everyone to like me or run anywhere.

I am sure that a large number of people watching a particular show in the hall will not remain indifferent when they hear Leontovych’s ‘Prelude’.

By the way, this is the beginning of the film. A dark screen, and all we hear is the music and the voice. It’s important for me to start with it, because I want to pay attention first of all to Leontovych and thank him that he appeared at the right moment and was able to inspire me.

There’s not a word in ‘Prelude’, and it took me three days to find the text of that composition because I couldn’t figure out that there were no words (laughs).

— Who do you think the audience for this film is?

— I have two younger brothers. And I think it’s too early for the youngest, who is five years old, but it would be interesting for the middle one, who will be 15. If he watches ‘Squid Game’, he might watch ‘Vodurudu’ too.

When you have a long shot split into 15 smaller ones that lasts three minutes, that’s the first check to see if everyone is ready to watch. I’ve heard of someone who waited until the 50th minute, and then they got what they wanted. We still gain experience when we watch a movie that we don’t always like.

— Why were dance films especially popular in the early 2000s and then almost disappeared from the box office?

— I know which movies we’re talking about. These are different parts of ‘Step Up’. Back then, dance culture was colorful, had a lot of styles to show in movies. That was the best reference for me of how I don’t want to make my movies. They make the same script over and over again. Now there are no such films, but Steven Spielberg is making ‘West Side Story’ — and it’s unexpectedly symbolic to me.

Whatever the dance film is, I’ll still watch it because it’s part of my profession and I’m interested in how it’s made. For the most part, these movies are done pretty well, but they add formulaic things to dance to interest a mass audience. And people who watch a lot of varied and interesting movies know from the first minute what’s going to happen at the end. Everything was cool in the first ‘West Side Story’, and it’s unclear why it should be remade.

— Which dance movies do you recommend? Which ones disgust you?

— When I’m asked to recommend a movie, I recommend the original ‘West Side Story’ first, and then ‘The Sound of Music’. I was even a little upset that Spielberg remade it, because even without watching the trailer, it is clear that they will try to make something similar, but with different faces. They won’t make it. The casting, the choreographers and the aesthetics of the movement decide a lot there. Americans lack new stories. They’ve surprised us many times with dances, shows, and now there’s much less of that. Enough time has passed since ‘La La Land’, and they need to show something.

The TV show ‘Tantsi z zirkamy’ disgusts me.

— Who in Ukraine can compete with genre films about dance? Are there any of them at all?

— I see interesting and daring filmmakers and directors being born in the Apache Crew. I want them to create competition for this film in the future.

Apache Crew at the premiere of ‘Vodurudu’ in Odesa

Design partner —
Development — Mixis