In the aftermath of the Patriots Day northeaster this spring, Chappaquiddick resident Francesca Kelly climbed into her pickup truck. She drove over debris-strewn roads, finally making her way to Norton Point. The whole time, a piece of classical music played on the stereo. When she got there, she parked and watched the water rush through the breach, a dead dolphin caught in the sands nearby.
The beauty and the tragedy of the image struck Mrs. Kelly, who splits her time between Chappaquiddick, where she raises Marwari horses, a rare desert breed, and India, the native land of the horses. Mrs. Kelly began riding at age three and discovered the Marwari horse while on safari in India nearly 20 years ago. The horses are descendents of the ones that ruling families rode upon and from which warriors fought in feudal India. “They are desert horses,” she said. “They are the only breed of horse to have curled ears, are very brave, very responsive. They are like dancers themselves.”
Since discovering the breed, Mrs. Kelly has choreographed numerous theatrical productions with them both in India and the United States and has published a coffee table book about them, for sale at Midnight Farm in Vineyard Haven. From the driver’s seat in her truck after the storm, Mrs. Kelly was inspired to take her horses in a new direction. “I need to do a film on Chappy with my horses,” Mrs. Kelly remembered thinking. She had never before made a film.
The story came to her quickly and it was set to the music she had on in the truck, an instrumental piece by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra of London. “It’s a journey from the mundane to the metaphysical through the spiritual waters,” Mrs. Kelly said last week as she watched her camera crew of three shoot on the last day of filming. “This is the only way to embody the story.”
The story is of a mortal who meets a dancer as he emerges from the waters of the breach. “The dancer is a link between this world and the next,” she said. At the end of the short film — it will run at maximum 15 minutes when finished — the mortal joins the dancer as he descends back into the water. “It’s a leaving of the world in a mystical sense,” she said.
The film has four stars. Mrs. Kelly not only choreographed and conceived the piece, but she also plays the mortal. The dancer in the film is Johannes Wieland, who Mrs. Kelly discovered during his residency at The Yard this summer. “He’s like an alien, a beautiful alien,” she said. “He’s very Zen, very tranquil. He has an intense presence.” And two of her Island horses are making their film debut.
In the film, the horses trample the wooden paths of Chappaquiddick and swim through the Gut. The men behind the camera sported wet suits and shot the animals from underwater. Three London dancers previously with the Royal Ballet Theater with their own production company, Ballet Boyz Productions, shot the film. “There are dancers in back of the camera, dancers in front of the camera and dancing horses,” Mrs. Kelly said.
After three days of filming in the brisk November air, the shooting wrapped last Thursday and the ballet dancers left the Island. They will now edit the footage and Mrs. Kelly hopes to show the as-yet untitled film at the Martha’s Vineyard Independent Film Festival this winter.
As she stood overlooking the sprawling Island fields in front of her, Mrs. Kelly said she could not have imagined doing this project anywhere but here. “It’s Island-based and Island-supported,” she said, commending the many residents nearby who opened their properties for filming. “It’s a small poem, really,” she said, reflecting on the project. “It’s a poem to music and it uses the beauty of Chappy in an unusual way.”