Dance Like Everyone’s Watching

Behind the scenes of Superbalist’s newest TVC

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Rudi Geyser 

DJ Lag’s hypnotic gqom track is on high rotation and a pair of dancers repeat their choreographed moves; there’s a white BMW with gold rims parked on set, another outfit change, and a LED screen flickering in the background. Call time was 6am and 12 hours later, it seems that there’s still some way to go…

Spirits are high nonetheless, and now director Chris Saunders is out of his camping chair and connected to an easy rig, going wide then tight, slo-mo then low angle, in order to get the close-up and body details that he wants from his leads, who kiss, swirl, drop and roll out of frame.

“Give me two more takes and we’ll get it!” says the choreographer, Natalie Fisher.

“It’s the intensity,” stresses Chris. “The intensity and their expressions.”

It's an extremely technical shoot, with such a short time to tell a story everything needs to work as hard as possible, which means there’s the real risk of the audience having seizures when they watch this TVC. Ten seconds of flashing titles. 20 seconds of action. Ten outfit changes. And all set to a track that you’re more likely hear at an underground club than on prime-time TV.

Having documented dance for years now, Chris is currently prepping for the launch of his first book, The Pantsula Series, which will be unveiled at a museum show at UCLA early next year. Post shoot he’ll head over to London to play a VJ set alongside Okzharp and Manthe Ribane at infamous underground electronic studio, Corsica Studios.

“You get different photographers – those who capture moments and those who are more conceptual – and lately I’ve been trying to do more of the latter. Writing is something that I really enjoy, especially technical methodologies and culturally referencing things. I actually found photography limiting at one point and so I wanted to explore new ways of telling stories. For this I wanted to tell a story through dance. That’s why I got Natalie.”

A choreographer who worked on the Rio opening ceremony, Natalie Fisher has been dancing her whole life and can’t even remember all of the places it’s taken her.

“I did the closing of the World Cup with Shakira and Freshly Ground, the Sheik of Dubai's daughter’s wedding…”

Concentrating her focus on the two dancers cast for our TVC, Natalie found it interesting how our male lead, Raphael Tambwe, freestyles his moves, and so instead of teaching him choreographed steps she had to shout power moves at him during certain sections, which he then interpreted into whatever genre of dance came next – krumping, pantsula, lyrical hip hop…

When they’re good dancers they can pick up anything, whether that’s learning the Tango for the first time or displaying a passion for someone you’ve only known for a few hours.

“Cassiel is only 17-years-old but she’s very mature,” says Natalie. “It’s about the breathing. It’s in the eyes. It’s a rhythmic thing. It’s in you. I love the breaks in the track because you can either go on the beat, which is quite fast, or you can syncopate it and stretch it out, which allows you to do that heavy breathing.”

Just looking at her you can tell that Cassiel Eatock isn’t your traditional ballerina and good thing too, because her routine today includes contemporary dance, afro, kwasa kwasa, vogueing and then ends up in the Tango. Born in America to a Puerto Rican father and British mother, Cassiel believes that her heritage must have something to do with how she’s able to get down like she does, and why she’s not as upright and stiff as a lot of other ballerinas are.

A member of the Royal Academy of Dance, with plans to attend New York performance art institution The Juilliard School after matric, Cassiel had to miss school on Friday, but says that they’re just prepping for grade 11 finals anyway and her life’s always been a bit of a balancing act. Then the music takes her, she throws a shape, and the definition of her name, Speed of God, makes that much more sense.

“I love this track. It’s insane. I can just get down. When I hear the music it just comes to me and I jive. I have that rhythm.”

Cassiel has a world of praise for Natalie, who she says taught her a lot about connecting with Raphael and making something as simple as breathing look that much more intense. It’s hard to believe that the dancers only met the day before our shoot in Natalie’s rehearsal room.

“At first it was quite strange, to be so close, the Tango is all at the pelvis, but then you connect, you get it, feel it, dance it… I always try and play a role, be a character, and right now there’s this chemistry where he literally sweeps me off my feet, we kiss, roll on the floor out of the shot…”

Nice work if you can get it, and 23-year-old krumping champion Raphael is the lucky dude who did. Not that he ever expected anything less, always knowing that he was destined to be in the spotlight, having grown up mimicking Michael Jackson from a young age, entering talent shows, singing in the school choir, and always dancing. After watching a video of Tommy The Clown Raphael fell in love with the high energy street dance’s sharp and precise movements and made it his mission to learn this.

“Krump is a style that started out back in Los Angeles and then shifted to Africa where I was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to pioneer the style here. I’ve been doing it for about fourteen years now and have travelled all over, promoting the style to Asia, Europe, Africa, United States.”

Always looking to learn new tricks, Raphael believes that dance is a language that all dancers communicate in and says that he enjoyed learning some new moves, especially the Tango. He’s also a rapper and was recently signed to Dutch Dream Records.

“Dance and music go together. You can’t have the one without the other. I was always in love with poetry and rapping is a part of my life. My style is authentically African in terms of subject matter, story telling, beats, production, even the visuals I work with.”

Then the assistant director shouts a new set of orders into his megaphone, the talent is pulled away for yet another outfit change, the track begins to loop and even before the clapperboard shuts there’s a palpable heat.