Lula Washington, director, teacher and owner of the Lula Washington Dance School in Los Angeles CA, recently choreographed for the Oscar-nominated film, Avatar. For the film, director James Cameron asked Washington to create a movement vocabulary specific to the Na’vi people in the film, and choreograph ritual dances that reflected their society. “A lot of my work has to do with themes and issues that are emotionally connected to a culture,” says Washington, “so in that sense, it wasn’t very different from what I usually do.” Washington spoke to DT about her experience on set and how Avatar has affected life at her studio.
What was the process like?
Members of my company (Lula Washington Dance Theatre) and I wore motion-capturing outfits, so every pulse and gesture could be picked up by computers. When we first arrived on set, we experimented with some movements in the outfits so James Cameron could see my ideas. Every 3 to 5 minutes as they were filming, someone would yell, “Cut.” I didn’t know what was going on! Later, we learned the computers weren’t able to process all the movement. They had to rework their computer systems–so we were instrumental in helping the crew figure out some technical problems early on, rather than later.
What have you brought back to your students?
After this experience, I talk to my students about being flexible and ready to work at any moment. My dancers and students know they need to be dependable. We also discuss the importance of being focused and paying attention, as in the film industry, there are no excuses for not doing your job.
Are you excited for the Oscars?
Yeah! We were very blessed. I’m just really glad and overwhelmed at the fact that we were part of such an amazing project that is changing the face of film.
Photo by Frances Dowdy courtesy Lula Washington