Dances Made to Order

Frye boots and Sand: An Interview with Melinda Sullivan

7/20/2012 by Kingsley Irons | Comment

A still from, “Gone” a film by Jeremy Jackson and Melinda Sullivan.

Curator Cari Ann Shim Sham has selected, “Gone” – a film by Jeremy Jackson and Melinda Sullivan to screen at the upcoming dance showcase at the Topanga film festival. We asked her what made this film so special:

Cari Ann: “Gone” is a sophisticated and passionate film that combines masterful cinematography, powerful imagery and a fabulous use of rhythm. The dancing in the film is an exciting new fusion of soft shoe and modern lyrical movement that is visually delicious. What I appreciate the most about this nugget of a film is that the high production level wasn’t allowed to get in the way of the core narrative concept. It is a simple idea executed in a powerful way.

Melinda Sullivan takes a moment to chat with me about her film, her artistic influences and some of her favorite things that she can’t live without…

Can you tell us a little bit about your dance film, “Gone” and what inspired it?

This short film is a true collaboration between myself, filmmaker Jeremy Jackson, and composer/producer Max Wrightson. Jeremy and I actually grew up tap dancing together under the Jazz Tap Ensemble. He is now an incredible visual artist whose photographs have such humanity and storytelling within them. Jeremy decided to shoot at night, orchestrating the lights, color, and shots. Max provided the second half of the soundtrack, blending Elizabeth Bivens’ vocals into a hypnotic beat of drums and Moog, as well as tackling the sound editing for the film.

The choreography for “Gone” stemmed from the spirituality of Elizabeth Bivens’ music. Her powerful lyrics kept repeating over and over in my head:

Every time I look around, somebody’s gone that was here last year.

I’d been fooling around for a while in an old pair of leather Frye boots for quite some time, and the sound they made on different surfaces: wood, loose dirt, sand, dried flowers, my kitchen floor, etc. I started meeting with a group of dancers at the beginning of the year and experimenting more with the brushing movement against the floor and found of sadness and heaviness, yet strength, that could be expressed. The turns, gliding, slides, brushes, then accented with the stomping and intensity of hoofing, produced an interesting musical effect. I’m looking forward to exploring storytelling through sound even more so in my future projects, both for stage and film.

Who/what are some of your artistic influences?

Directors/ Choreographers Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, Pina Bausch, Matthew Bourne, Jeff Calhoun,Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Baby Laurence, Ann Miller, Gregory Hines, Buck and Bubbles, Nicholas Brothers, Sandman Sims.

All the hoofers & dancers of the Golden Age of tap dance & movie musicals.

The fabulous female improvisors – Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Bille Holiday

Maurice Sendak & Shell Silverstein,the drums, my grandmothers.

What is your favorite dance memory?

I am fortunate to cherish so many dance memories, on stage and in the studio. Here is a recent one:

This past October, I performed with the New York Song & Dance Company at the Career Transition for Dancers Gala in NYC. I was featured as a vocalist and tap dancer in a number called, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’ I looked into the wings during the performance and saw Chita Rivera sitting there, smiling at us. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m singing and dancing for one of the world’s greatest song and dance women!” After the show I had the chance to meet Chita. We had an exchange I’ll never forget. She was just like,”Do your thing, girl!”

Tell us about some of your upcoming projects in 2012/2013…

Director Jon Chu has a new Youtube channel called  “DS2DIO”  that is producing some really wonderful content. I had a chance to choreograph and dance in an upcoming episode of “Remixed,” where a musical artist and dancer collaborate on a project. This episode also featured Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and will air next week. You might catch a little sand in that video as well.

I am also a finalist for the Capezio A.C.E. Awards as a choreographer and will be competing this summer in NYC.

Choreographer Galen Hooks & I are working on an original live show called “Campfire Vaudeville” featuring her original music.

Stay tuned for updates at  and

What are some of your favorite things that you can’t live without…

Stevie Wonder, good coffee, California’s weather & scenery, my best friends, my Frye boots.

If we were going to spend a day with you, what would we do?

Eat a nice hearty breakfast, get into the dance studio and play, take Bikram Yoga, listen to a record, watch a bunch of old footage on Youtube, teach a tap class, and go to sleep early because I am a grandma!


Dance Showcase at the Topanga Film Festival

Friday, July 27 at 8:30pm

Seating is limited. Get tickets here