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Choreographer Takes a Spot-On Turn to Filmmaking

First published in the April 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Since the advent of cinema, film has found the perfect two-step partner in dance.

With Thomas Edison employing one of his first moving picture cameras to capture dancer Ruth Dennis performing in 1894, and photographer Peter Elfelt’s filming of the Royal Danish Ballet in 1902, the marriage of film, dance and its practitioners, from Fred and Ginger to Kelly, Cagney and Travolta, has given us some of our most memorable movie moments.

It is for that reason it should come as no surprise that Burbank resident, and the city’s best-known dance choreographer and instructor, Natasha Middleton, has added the discipline of filmmaking to her creative repertoire.

Middleton, the founder and artistic director of the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, was born into a show business family. Her grandmother danced with the Ballet Russes, and her father, Andrei Tremaine, was with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her mother, Natalie Tremaine, appeared in the original “Little Rascals” films before carving out a career as a stage actress, while her aunt, Yvonne de Carlo, was an internationally famous film and recording star of the 1940s and ‘50s, perhaps, best-known for her role as Lily on the 1960s CBS television series “The Munsters.”

Photo courtesy Natasha Middleton | Cinematographer Jose Hernandez, who lives in Burbank, has partnered with Natasha Middleton as she expands her creativity into the world of cinema.

From being a dancer who trained and performed in Los Angeles, New York, Europe and Asia, Middleton graduated to being a choreographer who has overseen numerous musicals, operas, music videos, television programs and theatrical productions. She has done choreography work for Bette Midler, and on Broadway and a world tour for jazz musicians Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. In 2001, she founded the Burbank-based Media City Ballet company and subsequently established the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre in 2012.

Her transition into the world of cinema began in 2009 when Middleton worked as a choreographer and assistant to the editor for the romcom “Love Hurts” starring Carrie-Anne Moss. She also served as the assistant director and editor for filmmaker Darryl Grogan’s documentary about her dance company, and in 2020, directed a short film about the COVID pandemic called “Artists Are Like Animals.”

“I always wanted to direct film, and when COVID hit I decided the time was right to really get into it deeper,” said Middleton. “I made a film called ‘Artists Are Like Animals’ which is about how artists cannot thrive when they are caged.”

After completing that film, Middleton reached out to her longtime friend, Jose Hernandez, a Burbank resident who worked as a cameraman for NBC for many years. Hernandez partnered with Middleton to make her second film, “Amorous.”

“We shot that film on a soundstage in Hollywood, and after that we went on to do my latest film, ‘Dissension Within,’ which features Chelsea Paige-Johnston who is a classically trained dancer and model,” said Middleton.

Receiving national and international acclaim, “Dissension Within” has won numerous honors including Best Dance Film Short in Germany’s New Wave Film Festival. It was also selected as one of the top films in the Monthly Indie Short Film Festival.

Asked to draw parallels between dance, choreography and filmmaking, Middleton pointed out how the artistic genres have been associated since the early days of Hollywood.

Photo courtesy Natasha Middleton | Among the film’s to be screened on Sunday evening will be Middleton’s latest cinematic endeavor, “Dissension Within.”

“With dance I have a canvas on which to work, which is a stage,” Middleton explained. “But with film I have more freedom to express things. Film gives you the opportunity to do so much more visually. It gives you a new and interesting way to tell your story, like the way dance choreographer and filmmaker Busby Berkeley did in the 1930s. By the use of camera angles and techniques you can delve into your imagination knowing there are endless places you can take your creation.”

To showcase her films, Middleton will be hosting a fundraiser to benefit her dance company Sunday evening, May 1, at the Colony Theatre in Downtown Burbank.

“Along with giving people the opportunity to see our films and highlights from some of our dance company’s past performances, this event will help raise funds for us to get back on our feet following the pandemic,” said Middleton.

“It also will be a formal launch of our moving into film as well as dance. We have plans to do a feature film in the near future. As for the dance company, we are now back in full swing with our classes and are looking to do our performance of ‘Carmen’ again soon.”

Along with the screening of Middleton’s films at Sunday night’s event, audience members will have the opportunity to meet Middleton and the stars of her films during a Champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception, and participate in a question-and-answer session with the film’s cast and crew. The event begins at 5 p.m.

The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Tickets are $50 and available online, at the door or by calling (818) 688-2580. For more information on the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, visit PacificBalletDanceTheatre.org.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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