From Iceland — Suspiria: Halla Þórðardóttir Danced Into A Twilight Zone

Suspiria: Halla Þórðardóttir Danced Into A Twilight Zone

Suspiria: Halla Þórðardóttir Danced Into A Twilight Zone

Published January 9, 2019

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Luca Guadagnino’s regeneration of ‘Suspiria’ is an ode to the 1977 original, holding on to its exploration of dream, ritual and dance. The dance scenes, choreographed by Damien Jalet, are phenomenal and key to the film’s haunting visuals. When Damien came to Iceland in 2015 to work with the Icelandic Dance Company, he set up a series of performances, from which the ‘Volke’ dance work in the film was inspired. Halla Þórðardóttir worked with Jalet and at the time she couldn’t have imagined that it would lead to her filming with Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson and Mia Goth for two months in a tiny village in the North of Italy.

The film’s narrative follows a young woman, played by Dakota Johnson, who moves to Berlin and joins the Markos Dance Company. Jalet brought Halla in to act as one of the dancers in the company, but she also took part in the choreographic research and training process of the lead actresses.

The Presence of Lived Lives

If you’ve seen the film you’ll have entered its parallel world, but the experience of shooting the film was no less twilight-zoney. Halla shares, “Most scenes were filmed up in a abandoned luxury hotel on the top of a hill. We were driven for one hour each day to the set through fog and tall gloomy trees, by Italian drivers that drove like you would imagine they might from the typical stereotype of an Italian driver.”

“The memories have been flooding back to me and now I’m really processing the experience. It was all very surreal.”

When they first arrived to the set, Halla saw just the remnants of the life the hotel had before it was abandoned in the sixties. “They were patching up holes in the floorboards, building floor supports, putting new glass in the windows. The energy of the place was very strange and omnipresent and you still could feel the magnificence of the hotel’s lived life.”

Guts, Gore and Magic-Dance-Rituals

The conditions of filming were no less surreal than its setting. As Halla explains, “It was mid-winter, incredibly cold, the shooting days were long and for the final dance scene we were naked, basically outside, the walls were covered in hair, and there were guts everywhere.”

The last dance took two days to shoot. It took precise timing to nail the final ritual with all the actresses and dancers in sync. Halla shares, “We were thrashing around so much, swinging our heads and I ended up getting vertigo. I couldn’t stand for two days afterwards—it was insane.”

Not really a horror film

When Halla’s friends and family asked her before seeing the film whether or not it was too horrific, she recalls that “After having seen it at the premiere I was saying that it wasn’t even really a horror film.” When the film finished, Halla shares that, “People were saying to me, ‘Halla you have a high tolerance for horror movies—that was really gross.’” Laughing, she continues, “I guess I became a bit desensitized. There was little to no CGI used in the film and most of the body mutilations were done with prosthetics, so I was drinking coffee with my fellow dancers who had jaws and guts sticking out of strange places, so when I watched the movie I didn’t think these broken-body scenes were too triggering.”

It took two years to edit the film, and since its release Halla shares contemplatively, “the memories have been flooding back to me and now I’m really processing the experience. It was all very surreal.”

‘Suspiria’ might knock the wind out of you, but if you’re not too squeamish about guts, broken bones and spooky supernatural rituals, you should see it, if for nothing but the platform it gives to intense and incredibly crafted contemporary dance.

Catch Susperia in Bió Paradís out December and into January.

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