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Blue Burrow: An Interview with Director Leah O'Donnell

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

When I was three years old, I visited my grandparents in New York. One evening, I watched them dancing together in their living room. They seemed to twirl right into a world all their own. That is when I started asking for dance lessons!

What was your first job in the art field?

My first professional job was dancing in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in New York. We were on a winding staircase on either side of the runway, with silver canes, dancing to a Jay-Z song. I was 19 or 20 and it was my first time dancing in anything other than a ballet.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I am drawn to stories that admit to the darker sides of the human condition, but which are also rich in imagery with glimpses of magic. A story should be truthful, showing people that they are not alone in their challenges, while also containing some of of the beauty and unpredictability of being alive.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

My first medium is dance, whether on stage or incorporated into film. I generally begin with a concept, and then I do a lot of improvisation in the studio to find movement. I then work with dancers, and together we develop characters and refine the choreography. I am inspired by film, theater, music, and visual arts. I find that the work is strongest with many mediums working together.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Andrei Tarkovsky (Mirror, Stalker), Akira Kurisawa (Dreams, Dersu Uzala), Wim Wenders (PINA, Wings of Desire), Federico Fellini (Voice of the Moon, 81/2), Alan Resnais (Mon Uncle D’ Amerique)

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

For awhile, the pandemic brought a halt to live performance. In the dance community in particular, screendance became more popular as a result.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and support. Start where you are. You will learn and grow from each project. It is normal and okay to make imperfect work on the road to becoming the artist you want to be. If it is what you want to do, dive in and start the growing process.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Absolutely. Stories are how we process the world and our roles within it.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

My most recent performance was an evening- length dance theater show inspired by my graduate school research in Ireland: Once there was not explores impermanence, contradiction, and ambiguity through a surreal lens. At once dark and nostalgic, six dancers dodge Death, the oldest friend, and find purgatory in a pub, forgetting and remembering bits of life along the way. (More information and upcoming work at


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