Preview: Virginia, a Short Film About Biking and Dancing, Premiering at On the Route Bicycles in Lakeview

Claire Bauman, by her own estimation, is someone who would love Virginia Woolf. She went to Vassar. She’s into experimental theater. She’s interested in history, and especially interested in the often downplayed female perspective. But it wasn’t until last summer that she took the dive into Mrs. Woolf’s famous work.

Photo by Nate Bartlett

"I was well behind the curve. So, I read Mrs. Dalloway and then I read To the Lighthouse. this normal, everyday but it's poetic. It appreciates the natural world. It is non-linear. It is stream of consciousness and very much about women's voices and experiences. And ultimately it fed into how we found the title."

The title she’s referring to is Virginia, and it is a short film premiering on Wednesday, April 10, at On the Route Bicycles in Lakeview. The idea for the film came to Claire not entirely formed, but something about the project stuck with her.

"Probably a shower thought or something like that, and it started with a question; would a dance on a bike look like?”

At first glance, Virginia Woolf dancing and biking don’t seem to have much in common. But it was the idea of female agency and independent momentum that drove Bauman’s creative intention.

"I enjoy biking. one of those meditative things for me. It's my time to think and be uninterrupted. Exploring and representing that feeling was kind of the start of it. But there was more to it as well. This is about freedom. This is about independence. This is about autonomy."

A theater practitioner by trade (she’s currently assistant directing Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of Emily Schwend’s Utility) Bauman considers herself a filmmaking novice, but knew that it was the right medium for the story she wanted to tell.

“Because the bike had to move a short film would be the best way to explore this. I felt somehow pretty strongly that this was just one person on a bike. A singular story. I didn't want to create a giant dance number, like 500 Days of Summer on a bike. And then I thought-- who would I want to do this with?”

And that’s where director Ned Baker came in. They first met working on a production of Romeo and Juliet, and Bauman knew that he’d be the perfect collaborator for Virginia. Baker says, “She had themes and choreographic ideas she wanted to explore, and I was excited by the thought of it, so we got to work figuring out how we would do it.”

And as they figured out how they would do it, it was clear, from Bauman’s perspective, that this female-centric story needed to be in the hands of female creators.

"I felt really strongly about having a majority female team. Because so often that's not the case, that you have this opportunity to take up space and move yourself forward with your own power, with your own body. when you’re considering a female person, has extra layers of significance.”

Along with Amanda Ramirez, who is the featured dancer in the film, the crew includes director of photography Jana McLain, editor Jacobi Alvarez and creative technician Nate Bartlett. Shooting a film that requires someone dancing and biking outdoors provided its own set of challenges, but Bauman found that the obstacles were no match for such a collaborative team.

"We filmed this thing in five hours on a Sunday morning, from 5 to 10 am. There's a lot of close-ups of her biking, we chose to shoot on Lake Shore Drive. And then she’s dancing around the bike, and that's more stationary, and that's where we get more of the choreography. It was important to me that it was as bare as possible, and our editor Jacobi did an awesome job of cutting out the world.”

Director Ned Baker adds “Shooting movies outside is like four times more of a pain in the ass than shooting in a controlled space. But when we schlepped our gear over to the lakefront and saw how lucky we'd gotten the weather, my jaw dropped. There was this magical haze turning the water into like a white blanket that rolled right into the sky.”

The film was produced by JoAnne McSweeny, owner of On the Route Bicycles, where the film will have its premiere. Baker approached her about the possibility of a collaboration with the shop, and was surprised to find that McSweeny had been in the market for something just like Virginia.  

“She'd been looking for some artistic project around biking, so it was like right place, right time. So she funded the film and provided that gorgeous bike you see in the film. It was a really nice bike. I called it the ‘celebrity bike’ because I treated it so delicately from start to finish.”

The film will be screened on April 10 at 7pm, at an event that Baker hopes will unite the bicycling and filmmaking communities. Along with Virginia, the event will screen a few other films from local artists, and as Baker puts it, “ some cycling antics like stationary bike races and a photo booth. Probably some beer. I’m pretty stoked.”

On the Route Bicycles is located at 3144 N. Lincoln Ave. For more information on the shop, and to find out about the screening of Virginia, visit their website.
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Matthew Nerber

Matthew Nerber is a performer and theater artist in Chicago, and a former literary contributor with the Generation, the University at Buffalo’s longest running alternative newspaper. When not seeing or making theater, Matthew can be found at the Music Box or expanding his classic rock vinyl collection. He is a 2019 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.