Filmmaker Jacob Krupnick On Then Comes The Body

Jacob Krupnick is a filmmaker from New York who tells stories through movement. His immersive dance films – set in busy cities – spark curiosity and delight on the surface while exploring larger questions about identity and public space. 

Jacob stops by on Close-Up Culture to chat about his short film, Then Comes The Body.

What was the inspiration for the film?

Leap of Dance Academy is an incredible example of culture and globalism. Ballet is this classical European dance form that eventually spreads to the US. Then a Hollywood movie from twenty years ago inspires a boy in Nigeria to learn ballet. And because there’s no teachers, he learns it painstakingly on his own, through the internet, going on to create a space for a new community to blossom.

Having followed the dance school for several years, reading every article and eagerly following their growth, I was incredibly curious about the challenges that lay outside the news clips. I felt like Leap of Dance was trying to express positivity, but that they also might have a lot more to say about what it’s like to be building a culture of ballet from the ground up.

How did you come across Leap of Dance Academy?

I came across Leap of Dance Academy at the same time that millions of other people did: during the first summer of the pandemic, when their story went viral.

In the year that followed, I read everything I could about Leap of Dance, and enjoyed following their story playing out in public. On first glance, it seems like a prototypical feel good news story, but my curiosity kept growing about what life at this unlikely ballet school on the outskirts of Lagos really looked like. I wrote them every few months to try and make contact, but I think they were overwhelmed with inquiries.

Eventually, I connected with the founder of the school, Daniel Ajala, and explained that I was interested in telling a story with their community that reflected their experience more earnestly than anything I’d come across. I shared a number of dance projects of mine, and he introduced me over video calls to all the students. And that’s when the work really began. 

Has anyone from the dance community reached out to you? 

I’m not sure which community you’re referring to — Nigerian, global, or otherwise. Though dancers from all over the world seem excited to see it.

Dance schools are often a bit like tribes, with specific style and pedagogy and leadership. I’m psyched that this film is resonating with both people who identify as dancers and people who aren’t. I’m a believer that when it comes to stories, in the particular lies the universal. By working on a story that’s specific to this community in Western Lagos, there are feelings that anyone can empathize with.

Was there anything particularly difficult to film?

Any time you leave home to make a film, you need to allow for a lot of unknowns. You know there’s uncertainty awaiting, even if you don’t know what form it’s going to take.

Our local production team made the production experience about as smooth as it could be — and still, there were a ton of challenges along the way. The neighborhood we spent most our time in is not well off at all — there isn’t reliable electricity, water, bathrooms, markets for supplies. It’s hot and dusty. Keeping things clean is a bit of an uphill battle. And so over the course of ten days, this impacts how we’d have to navigate hard drives and batteries and maintaining the equipment. And at the same time, these are the comforts of home — and so it’s fundamentally interesting for us as visitors to keep everything functioning without those comforts. 

How have audiences received the film? 

We’ve just had our first three screenings at Tribeca Film Festival, but so far, the reaction is completely electric. As many times as my team has seen it, we’re always on the edge of tears, and to feel that from is oddly powerful. I can’t wait to share it more widely.

Why is it important for you to tell this story? 

I’m always interested in telling stories about how the world has become interconnected, and how the unintended consequences of that are both positive and negative. Leap of Dance Academy is on an incredible path, and I’m honored to make a project that shows all these other facets of their experience beyond the smiles. They’re an incredibly strong and inspired community, and as you can see in the film, there’s also something quite precarious to their rise.

There’s a lot of conversation in film making right now about who has the right to tell whose stories. I grew up going to an international school in New York, a minority as a white guy, and as someone who has always been drawn to spending time around people who are different from me. Part of the reason I’m so proud of this film is that it shows the results of earnest collaboration — indeed, it wouldn’t have been made any other way.

What is next for you? 

I’m currently working on a second feature-film that involves dance-based storytelling, set around the world. The creative phase is great — now seeking funders 🙂

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