A Glimpse behind the scenes of Maiko: Dancing Child with Director Åse Svenheim Drivenes and her Subject Maiko Nishino



How did this film come about? Did Maiko or someone else approach you with it?

Åse: No, I knew Maiko because I read about her in the newspapers and in the media. And I was always intrigued by her story, especially her background story… Of course I thought this could be a very interesting story for film. With documentaries, you’re always looking for interesting stories. So I approached Maiko, we met for a coffee, and we talked just to get to know each other a little bit better. And I became even more interested in her, and then I saw her on stage, which was an amazing experience. Then I was sure that I wanted to follow her. But I didn’t know what the story would be. I was very drawn to her in a way, very interested in her. I was curious about her and I needed to find out more. So we started test filming in 2010 and started working together… And it’s been four, long, inspiring, years getting to know her better and better.

How did the form of the film come together? Did you have an idea of the angle you would take with the film, or did that come after you had shot all the footage? 

Åse: No, I think it’s very important to have a plan so that you know what you’re looking for when you’re filming. If you don’t have a plan, and you’re just filming everything, then I think you have a big problem in the editing room (laughs). So I always think a lot about what the story is here, and I spent time finding the film. And with this process I think on this film, I spent quite a long time trying to find the film! Finding the story, and what the story was going to be. Because I didn’t know she was going to get pregnant. And when we met she wasn’t focused [on that] she wasn’t there yet. So that ended up being a positive surprise when she told me. I knew she wanted to become a mother, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen in the time that we were filming her. So of course when that happened it was obvious to me that this was going to be a very important storyline to follow. So I guess the film took a very classical storyline with a main character, you know pursuing a dream, and then getting all these obstacles and turning points in her life. What is she going to do, how is she going to perform on stage. That storyline is quite pure and classical. 

The film has very beautiful and deliberate compositions, what did you discuss with your cinematographer? Was there a particular aesthetic you were going for, an overall feel? 

Åse: Yes of course. I involve the cinematographer and the sound person always before we start shooting. We have a long talk and I tell them what I’m looking for. I tell them how Maiko is feeling today, what are we going to capture in that scene. And then we start working together, the DP starts to come up with his own ideas. So every shot is very thought through. I think it’s very important to involve the DP and trust him and his ideas. To let him bring his own vision to it. 

Different documentary filmmakers approach the genre in different ways. Some stage and write scenes believing that capturing the spirit of the topic is primary while others will stress realism with no exception. Where do you fall on that spectrum, and what approach did you bring to Maiko Dancing Child? 

Åse:  Because I wasn’t using intos in the film, sometimes it’s necessary to construct and to — maybe staging is not the right word… I would never ask Maiko to do something that was not natural to her. Or things that I haven’t observed already anyways. When you make a documentary film you are missing out on things that she’s talking about with her husband or with her boss. And so of course I ranged. So now we wanna do a scene with Maiko and Ingrid the Ballet director, and I needed to know what I wanted for that scene. So I would instruct them on things that I wanted them to discuss, but they were never things that they hadn’t already discussed before. It had to be relevant for the story, otherwise you end up with a lot of material– 

Maiko: And not a real story.

Åse: Of course it’s very important to keep the realism, and make sure it’s authentic. But if there’s a room full of beautiful lights on one side of the building and not beautiful lights on the other side, of course I would ask Maiko to go to the room with the beautiful lights, and I don’t think that ruins any of the realism of it. 

Maiko as a performer, you’re used to being observed as you work. Was there any different sensation, or psychological effect, in being documented in a film about yourself? Whether that be while you’re performing or simply being at home? 

Maiko: I am used to performing in front of a lot of people, but I have never been filmed backstage as I prepare myself for my performances, or when I’m practicing, or when I get home. So that was very new to me, and I wouldn’t say I was very comfortable in the beginning. But I knew it was very necessary and important for audiences to see who I am, and not just a ballet dancer who goes on stage and is perfect. It not always is. So I wanted audiences to feel how I am as a person. So I felt it was very necessary for Åse to follow me everywhere… Literally everywhere (laughs). 

So I’m guessing you guys grew to know each other very well. 

Maiko: Yes, we know each other very well. And we have a very special trust where I would let her in in very difficult times. But it was very important for the film that she was there for my up and downs. 

Maiko, in the film it is suggested that, in the future, you will continue to do ballet but to a more relaxed degree. Now that some time has passed how do you see yourself progressing as a mother and as a ballerina? 

Maiko: I’m very busy, and I’m still on top. I’m still performing in leading roles in Cinderella, so nothing less than before I had my baby. He’s a very happy child, he’s 8 months now. So I’m going to try my best to keep going.

And Åse, as a filmmaker, will you continue to work strictly in the documentary form? Do you have any future projects?

Åse: Yes, right now because I’ve been working with two different films parallel, so I’m really busy with both films actually. And I’m also busy traveling with the films to present the films. But I work with different ideas, so I will of course continue making films. And I want to I guess, maybe try to do something a bit more like… My next film I’m thinking, not like a classical story line you know. Not that kind of outer story. [I want to] challenge myself a little bit. Because all of my films have been those kind of character-driven human processes. Which I’m very happy to do; But I’m thinking maybe trying something new to challenge myself creatively and artistically. 

Will you ever work in fictional films? You have a formal quality that I think would work there. 

Åse: Yeah I have thought about it, and am thinking about it. But also, I think documentary filmmaking is so interesting. Real life is so dramatic you know. But it’s getting more like these hybrid films with a fusion between fictional and documentary. When you look at a film and you’re not quite sure if you’re watching a fictional film or a documentary. So I do use a lot of — I am inspired by fictional films as much as I am documentary films. So I don’t have any sort of limitations there. I think in a good film it doesn’t matter. 

Keep an eye out for Maiko: Dancing Child, and these two artists future work. 

My review of the film Here.