DANCE ON LOCATION 023: an abandoned film set in Hensol Woods, Wales, UK

footSTEPS Season 3 returns to Wales, launching with this first dance film recorded on an abandoned film set in Hensol Woods in The Vale of Glamorgan.

Close to the village of Welsh Saint Donats, Hensol Woods lies in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales. The woods is almost 226 acres and surrounds Pysgodlyn Mawr, a lake and site of Special Scientific Interest.

The woods' comprise of some glorious walks, but also hold a hidden secret. Hensol Woods is home to an abandoned film set, complete with an eerie wooden house with a tin roof, and a working wild west windmill.

DISCLAIMER: This film was recorded prior to COVID-19 restrictions being tightened in the UK in September 2020, and prior to Wales' national 'firebreak' which began on 23rd October 2020.

Hensol Woods has provided a variety of filming locations for many different films and TV shows over the years, including Being Human and Doctor Who. We were told that the abandoned wooden house and windmill was used to film an episode of BBC's Hidden, a detective drama about the ensuing investigation after a body is found in Snowdonia National Park.

The abandoned set provided a fresh set of inspiration for a new short dance film, generating an out-of-time, thriller style suite of movements in me as I explored these surroundings for the first time.

I'd never thought about film sets as being abandoned. I'd always thought about sets being built on sound stages in studios and then re-purposed when a series ended it's run, or in the case of shows like Game of Thrones, filming in locations which fit the story and the setting, closing off the area to the public whilst the shoot took place, before moving on. But I guess it makes a certain kind of sense - leaving a set such as this one to the elements saves money on a production, and allows nature to take its course in taking over the site once the shoot is over.

I was particularly amazed by the polystyrene rocks embedded into the ground, which looked so real until I realised they were a bit squishy and felt the need to investigate further!

The house on this site is basically two separate buildings, connected by one large roof. There was a huge amount of attention to detail in the set design - I saw nails strewn across a table just outside the first building, accompanied by a vintage-looking box labelled 'tile grout.'

We were also witness to the remnants of props left behind... wooden structures that would have once been furniture, an old, broken television set and a bedraggled rug.

Nearby there were a couple of other areas - the less-intact remains of other parts of the set - including a series of planks of wood, pushed into the ground and reaching up towards the sky at different lengths. They reminded me of a makeshift Celtic ritual site - standing planks instead of standing stones.

The Dance

The unassuming opening of this film leaves much to be revealed - even the knots of the tree trunk behind me are hidden until my shoulder rolls are executed and I drop my torso towards the ground.

It is as if something is pulling me in all directions through my chest throughout this film. My chest pops up and then flows into a body roll, sending a wave throughout my whole skeleton, my arms reaching forward and then upwards. I feel that something is calling me. And then, as the camera flips around to reveal the abandoned house, I feel that I may not be alone; there's definitely a presences of someone - or something - else here.

Quite possibly one of my favourite moments in all of the dance films we have made so far, is my disappearing act into the house, then reappearing again in the clouded and dusty window. I love the partial view that the camera has on me, so the viewer might need their imagination to figure out what the rest of my body is doing. I like the fast arm and chest movements in conjunction with that slow drop, arms above my head, elbows bent and head winding around. Suddenly, I become a ghostly presence in the house, unsure of its histories and futures.

In a flurry I move from the window to a position behind one of the exterior walls. I particularly enjoy how the camera finds a crevice in the wooden slats to view me through. I am somehow clearer than the ghost in the window, but still out of reach and other-worldly. I move faster this time, my shoulders now getting involved and playing a switching dance from side to side.

When the camera joins me inside, time slows down. I wanted to create a feeling of floating, of almost sitting on the wooden structure I thought might have once been a chair, but not quite. I feel that this makes me a ghost once more - engaging with, but never touching the objects around me. I wind my wrists and my elbows slowly, giving the impression of treading water, trying to move through the air and onto another astral plane.

One of my favourite movements to perform, involves the wooden table inside the house. I lean into it, swiping my arms across the table, inches above its surface in various different directions. Whilst improvising this movement, I imagined the actions that may have been performed over this table during the film shoot, seeing my arms-length swipes as a way of emulating those actions in a more abstract way.

There's a pause as I leave the house. The camera takes a moment to digest the outdoor scenery. In running over to the tree stump, I jumped over what must have once been a camp fire. I remember rubbing my hands together for warmth, in response to the sight of the fire, then complicating that movement further, winding my wrists around each other and then pushing my arms in opposite directions.

I found this area of Hensol Woods an incredibly rich site to engage with, filled with objects, and items of interest that would spark inspiration. Overall, I think this dance film lends itself to a pseudo-thriller theme, as a body explores an abandoned space that was once built to give small screen audiences a feeling of the eerie unknown.

Whilst this is our first dance film on an abandoned film set, it certainly isn't the only one which takes place in lush green surroundings. Check out similar films at the below posts:

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