July is the perfect time to create a dance film set against the backdrop of a Medieval castle and an adventure up Europe's 2nd highest sand dune.
The Vale of Glamorgan has some truly beautiful beaches. One of them is at Ogmore-by-Sea, but this beautiful little spot also provides towering sand dunes and a ruined castle I felt fit for a dance video.
Ogmore Castle looks stunning in the sunshine. I got a little too excited at how much the blue sky and the green grass really popped in my photos. The now ruined fortress has its origins in the 12th century and was built by the Normans to defend Glamorgan against the Welsh. The castle now exists in a series of sections, with a few walls still intact, but just the foundations remaining in some areas. It overlooks a river, complete with stepping stones to cross from one side to the other.
The castle is run by Cadw - the Welsh government's historic environment service. As one of their unstaffed monuments, Ogmore Castle has been open since the beginning of July 2020 under the COVID-19 restrictions, and their staffed monuments are opening in a phased manner from the beginning of August 2020. You can find a list of their sites here, but please note that if you wish to visit a staffed site, you must book in advance at the moment.
Each dance video I create is a process of getting to know the site very quickly. We tend to film around 4 continuous shots, sometimes more - depending on how uneven the ground is, and then we choose which take works best.
I loved dancing in the ruins of this medieval castle. With stones and walls to play with, I felt I could be much more tactile in this video than in the dances I made in the woodlands of Llandegfedd Reservoir and Wentwood Forest. Not wanting to swing off trees at the risk of breaking them in the forest, Ogmore Castle provided some solid walls wish I could push against, offering more movement-based possibilities.
There's something about stone walls that have been around for hundreds of years. I always marvel at how they still hold together - the sections that remain so far seemingly impervious to weather and human interference. What conditions have meant that these are the walls which remain, and not the others? I wonder who once held onto them for support.
The layout of the castle still seems to be largely intact, and this provided a great blueprint for me to work with. For some reason I felt the need to move quickly between the rooms, but much slowly within them. I enjoyed playing around with the different levels as well - interacting with what may have once been the castle's basement, or moving across to the first floor that now appears as if built onto a mound in the earth, nature having crept in and messed with our perceptions of what once went where and how it looked.
I also experimented a bit more with moving towards the camera in this video, rather than simply having the camera follow me. This was partly due to the nature of the site - at times the huge stone steps meant that the camera couldn't quite follow me as quickly as we had gotten used to - but it was also interesting to play with the space and have the camera view me from a distance, before zoning in again. I like the idea of the shot moving out from a focus on the body to a focus on the surroundings, and I hope that videos like this present these sites in a different way. In the comments below, let me know if you've been to Ogmore Castle before, and if this video adds something to the way that you view the site.
Just like the photos, I really love the colours in this video. With the grey of the castle against a backdrop of green and blue, and my brightly coloured clothes in conversation with the grey of the castle, I really get the sense of one moment in time meeting another.
A new challenge crept up on me when filming this particular video - the wind. Although the Insta 360 One R camera offers incredible visuals and an amazing FlowState stabilisation function, the microphone is really not great, especially when using the invisible selfie stick (honestly, the screech you can hear on the recording when you extend the stick mid-shot... eesh!) To combat this, I had until now been recording the natural audio of the surroundings on another device once I had recorded the final take of the video. This seemed to work... until things got really windy.
When you're by the sea, as Ogmore Castle is, the wind really takes a mighty wallop of any microphone and it all just comes out as white noise. Maybe I'll eventually use this as a lesson to get some better kit in the audio area, but I used this opportunity to test out a silent dance video. Responses so far have been really split down the middle, with some viewers describing the silent video as "mesmerizing", whilst others noting that hearing the sound of the surroundings makes them feel incredibly calm, as if listening to a relaxation tape with the sounds of the sea. Something to keep playing with methinks...
The Sand Dunes
Once we had filmed the dance video at the castle, we spent the rest of the afternoon having an explore of some of area's other interesting offerings, and it's worth highlighting one in particular here...
The sand dunes just down the road at Merthyr Mawr include the second highest sand dune in Europe, which is aptly titled "The Big Dipper". These very sand dunes were actually used as part of the set for the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. It was quite an effort to get to the top of The Big Dipper, and I'm told that many people use the dune for a kind of summer-sledding! You can watch a gorgeous drone video of the sand dunes here.
The location has been described by The Independent as "cool place of the day", and you can see why - the Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve showcases a landscape the likes of which I'd never seen before - both grassy and sandy simultaneously, and filled with wildlife: butterflies, dragonflies and more.
If you're developing a particular penchant for my dance videos at castles, then check out the following posts: