How Sara Silkin turned ‘Jibaro’ into a study of movement

When a woman adorned with golden coins and shimmering trinkets screams from the middle of a lake, knights collapse and turn against each other – all except Jibaro, who, as a deaf person, is unaffected by the destructive screams. The woman slides in and out of the water in a seductive tango choreographed by Los Angeles-based artist Sara Silkin.

For Silkin, the “Jibaro” episode of “Love, Death & Robots” is more than just an animation – it’s a motion study. The episode, which won Emmys for Short Form Animation Program and Individual Achievement in Animation at the 2022 Creative Arts Emmy Awards earlier this month, uses movement to tell the story of love and betrayal between the Siren and the Knight.

“Jibaro” provided her with a platform to show how vivid and detailed dance can be in film and television through its connection with the show’s innovative animation. “It’s important to show that dance tells the story and doesn’t just have to be in a musical number,” she says, explaining that dance can self-perpetuate an episodic narrative when given the opportunity.

Silkin is a multidisciplinary artist whose work focuses on the “mind-body connection” and explores how the body can unconsciously communicate the state of mind. She is Artistic Director of the Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center in Vista del Mar and previously worked with Refik Anadol to choreograph and record a live installation presented at the Walt Disney Festival in celebration of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 100th Anniversary in 2018 Concert Hall was projected. She was commissioned by the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company to choreograph, write and direct the short dance film LOST MIND: Problems Mentaux.

Before the screenplay of “Jibaro” was written, director Alberto Mielgo approached Silkin in February 2020 to choreograph the episode. She immediately saw Mielgo’s vision, in which she imagined the Golden Lady moving like water and Jibaro deviated from hyper-masculine expectations of how knights move in the world by choreographing his character’s balletic movements.

They were preparing to start filming in April 2020, but COVID halted their plans. The team wasn’t able to film until December, giving Silkin time to grapple with moves and Mielgo time to delve deeper into the script.

Silkin compared her choreography for the show to lines in a screenplay, stating that while actors deliver lines with intent, their movements embody the characters’ intentions rather than speak to them.

A woman with long brown hair, arms crossed, hands on head and shoulders.

Choreographer Sara Silkin in her studio.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

“The great thing about working with someone as detailed as Alberto is that you know what each shot is going to be and on ‘Love, Death & Robots’ there is a strict time limit,” says Silkin. “Even if I wanted to do a more elaborate moment or dance, it was impossible because then it would interfere with the rest of the progression.”

Mielgo and Silkin got Megan Goldstein, a student in Silkin’s classes at EDGE Performing Arts Center, to portray the Golden Woman after Mielgo saw her in Silkin’s videos on social media. Goldstein worked with Silkin to develop small details in the performance that maintained the specificity Mielgo sought. Whether it was a seductive licking of a sword or caressing the Golden Lady’s face, not a moment was wasted in showing the tension in the story.

Goldstein says it challenged her as a dancer to show emotions at the micro level. “Sara got me a lot in my facial expressions and how I can gesture differently at the camera,” says Goldstein.

After the dances were filmed using performance capture, the animation team rotoscoped the footage to create the final product, which was exactly what the dancers were performing. Silkin was surprised to see how close the animation was to the actors’ movements themselves.

A woman kneels and supports herself on the ball of her forefoot. She looks down, arms wrapped around her head.

Sara Silkin in her Los Angeles studio on September 7, 2022.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

“I thought maybe they wanted to change things up a bit more,” says Silkin. “I realized, no, they really carefully traced the body to be able to do that.”

“The directors, the producers, and everyone who worked on the project really respected dance and movement,” says Goldstein. “They never asked me to do anything less, or they never cut any of the dances that Sara and I choreographed.”

Goldenstein says it’s “not often” that a project is about movement in the way that “Jibaro” is. Silkin felt she had “a lot of freedom” in movement on the project as she fuses Mielgo’s storyboards and animations with dance.

“I was very pleased to see that the entire dance was still choreographed,” says Silkin. “And it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing as a choreographer not to see your work looted or cut down.”

In fact, Silkin and Mielgo often communicated their ideas through movement, portraying the dance they saw in their minds with their bodies behind the camera.

“I think there was a lot of stress and respect for what we bring from the director or from Sara,” says Raymond Ejiofor, one of the dancers portraying Jibaro. “I think there was that space for us to be ourselves and bring in our own artistry and experiences – a safe space to play.”

Silkin played with fluid movements specifically for the Golden Lady, who Mielgo describes as “a creature of the water.”

Two figures look at each other.

The golden woman and the knight.

(netflix)

“I wanted to make sure I was replicating water in every moment, that it’s constant, that even when someone is still, there’s still movement seeping through the body,” says Silkin.

She was inspired by her experience with Gaga – a movement language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin that emphasizes the flow of water down the spine – and Pole Dance, in which the performer’s body wraps around an apparatus like a fluid meanders.

The movement came naturally to Goldstein, who comes from a similar background in contemporary ballet as Silkin.

“So that I can bring it [water-like movement] getting it into a character and making it so natural isn’t something you get every day in dance,” says Goldstein. “It was enriching to be shown my natural movements.”

Silkin says that she bonded with the Golden Lady because of her transformation into “Jibaro”. The Golden Lady initially wields great power, wreaking havoc across the river, but that power is quickly snatched from her.

“I reconnected deeply with the moment when she was such a beautiful woman, such a powerful woman, and suddenly she was decimated and robbed of her beauty because I thought that person was the only person she would ever love ‘ she says.

Sara Silkin looks to the left while crouching on the balls of her feet and bending over her left knee.

Sara Silkin wanted water-like movements in her choreography.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Silkin says that while it’s typical for the male character to wield destruction and wield power, “Instead, the Golden Lady twists her emotions into a more violent male trope, sharing her feelings in an authentic way and showing her heartbreak with a primal scream and gut feeling — more searing dance that ultimately destroys the man who betrays her.”

“Jibaro” took the combined efforts of the director, animators and dance artists to tell the heartbreaking story. According to Silkin, the show is a feat of dance and animation because Mielgo challenged the “aesthetics of what animation can be” while putting the dance artists at the center.

“Dancers are often overlooked,” says Goldstein. “Without dancers and without choreographers, a lot of the entertainment we see wouldn’t be as exciting as it is with all the extra work that goes into it.”

By making dance the driving force of “Jibaro,” Silkin has proven that dance, particularly contemporary ballet, can be a powerful narrative tool that can evoke a character’s arc. Without Silkin’s movement and the collaboration between dance artists and animators, the episode could not have become the Emmy-winning animation.

“The story in and of itself could not be told without the physical theater,” says Ejiofor. “The choreography as a vehicle for storytelling is magical and powerful.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-14/sara-silkins-choreography-jibaro-emmy-nomination How Sara Silkin turned ‘Jibaro’ into a study of movement

Sarah Ridley

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