How to do the hitchhiker dance

Colin Farrell in 'After Yang': How the Actor Mastered a Techno Dance-Off

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Choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall taught the 'apprehensive' actor and his co-stars everything they needed to know for the new sci-fi indie movie.

By Matthew Jacobs

Published on 3/4/2022 at 10:00 AM

Colin Farrell has danced before, and he will dance again. He did a spirited salsa dance in Miami Vice, a listless slow dance in The Lobster, and a cowboy-hatted line dance before he was famous. His newest movie, After Yang, finds Farrell at his grooviest. In a striking three-minute sequence that plays during the opening credits, the actor and his fictional family tear through a synchronized techno routine that contains increasingly athletic invented moves called "the hitchhiker," "hurricane," and “tornado time.”

"He was a little apprehensive," After Yang choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall tells Thrillist. "Basically, I had a one-on-one rehearsal with him because I didn't want him to feel overwhelmed in any way." Rowlson-Hall expected their prep to last a few hours, but after about 45 minutes, Farrell’s nerves had subsided. "He arrived on set, and he had it. He is just one of those people where he needed to do his work in his own way on his own time."

This particular dance hustle has a global scale, and Farrell’s precision was essential. The futuristic sci-fi indie begins by cycling through five specific households as more than 30,000 families compete in a multilevel virtual dance-off that occurs monthly. Everyone's steps are identical, and if anyone misses one, that family is eliminated. The participants, it’s implied, have been working hard to perfect their flow, which is strenuous while still maintaining a Dance Dance Revolution-style accessibility.

"I made very linear, very graphic movements so that it's sort of a clear way to see if somebody's not hitting those points," Rowlson-Hall says. She wanted the kinetic motions to feel like invisible lasers were shooting toward the dancers, who would be accompanied by music akin to a pulsating video-game score.

When tea-shop owner Jake (Farrell) and his clan are ejected from the competition, the plot of After Yang kicks into gear. Jake, his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), and adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) start pointing fingers, laughing as they try to determine which of them messed up. But their fourth family member, the titular Yang (Justin H. Min), keeps dancing. They shout his name, thinking he’ll snap out of it. Oblivious, he doesn't. Yang is a sophisticated android known as a "techno-sapien"—many households have one—but this lapse means he is malfunctioning. And if he’s malfunctioning, Jake and Kyra risk losing a surrogate son, someone who acts as sibling, playmate, and caretaker to young Mika. His absence would be tantamount to a death.

Thrillist TV

Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, and Justin H. Min in 'After Yang' | A24

The South Korean filmmaker and video essayist Kogonada wrote and directed After Yang, his second feature after 2017’s Columbus, which starred Jon Cho and Haley Lu Richardson. Kogonada uses intimate concepts to explore big ideas, sending Jake on an existential quest to understand Yang’s history in hopes of repairing him. But first, the director needed something electrifying to launch his movie, hence the introductory dance montage. That’s where Rowlson-Hall, whose previous credits include Girls, Vox Lux, and John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, came in.

After Yang never reveals the dance contest’s exact origins, but Rowlson-Hall imagined a tomorrow in which the aftermath of social media apps like TikTok and primetime shows like Dancing with the Stars had birthed this interactive amusement. Families turn on their televisions at the designated time and follow a series of cues. "If the camera is the perspective of the screen that's reading this dance and judging these people, my idea was that, in order for some kind of scanner through these TVs to be able to know when people are out of the dance, I need to create a very two-dimensional dance, which you can see we're already doing in the era of Instagram," Rowlson-Hall says. "I thought it was fun to keep heightening the stakes, and also the imagery inside of it, so that you get a sense of the different personalities of the different families."

Rowlson-Hall wasn’t sure what song Kogonada would choose—she suggested something by electronic musician Mas Ysa or a track called "Beastmode" that she found by searching for "pump-up gym songs" on Spotify—but she knew the high-adrenaline medley would be shot on a green screen and color-blocked with vibrant backdrops, much like the kung fu opening of Kid with the Golden Arm, which Kogonada cited as a reference point. She sent the various performers, including Sarita Choudhury (And Just Like That, Mississippi Masala), who plays a museum curator interested in studying Yang’s defect, an instructional video so they could prime themselves before rehearsals. Then she had only one day to get the five groups ready for production. "Some of the actors were very excited to take on the challenge, and others were like, 'Oh my god, I'm going to die,'" Rowlson-Hall jokes.

Colin Farrell in 'After Yang' | A24

The moves she concocted are generic enough not to be rooted in any specific trend—no flossing, for example. And while there are dancing robots à la Ex Machina, which could function as a spiritual cousin to After Yang, Rowlson-Hall wanted the gestures to seem militaristic but not overly mechanical. In this particular future, artificial intelligence has taken on gentle human characteristics, prompting questions about why one species or race would be assigned more value than any other. (As one character asks, “What’s so great about being human?”) And while it could very well be Jake’s fault that his family is eliminated from the dance-off, Rowlson-Hall says Farrell rose to the occasion. "I've learned to work with actors over the years to make them feel comfortable dancing and to take out the fear of dance," she says.

Farrell is the conduit through which Kogonada explores those ideas, shepherding the story's grief while investigating the conditions that made Yang such a vital part of their unit. But first, he has to dance.

(After Yang is now playing in select theaters and available on Showtime.)

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Matthew Jacobs is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tarantallegra.

Hitchhiking for New Rules of Thumb

I have never hitchhiked in the literal sense. I’ve never stood on the side of a road and stuck out my thumb with the hopes that a passing vehicle would stop and pick me up. And when I think of hitchhiking, it conjures up all sorts of familiar tropes and cautionary tales.

The Merriam Webster definition of hitchhike is “to be carried or transported by chance or – unintentionally”.

I’m not so sure I agree with that definition and I’ll tell you why.

What stands out the most to me, is the idea that despite the inherent associated dangers, the hitchhiker has discerned that the fear of staying where they are, is far greater than the fear of where they are going.

And so, unattached to knowing where the journey will take them, they show up on the side of the road and extend their arm with a deliberate/emphatic/literal thumbs up to chance.

And that, from my point of view, qualifies as intention.

The definition of hitchhike cited earlier, is more aptly applied to the word “hijacked” as so many of us have felt over the past year. None of us intended to be “carried or transported by chance” to where we are now. We were essentially hijacked – diverted from where we thought we were going, to where we are today.

We’ve all experienced that “how did I get here?” feeling of time slipping past without us noticing. And we’ve all been guided in one way or another by principles or “rules of thumb” along the way.

The definition of a rule of thumb is “a generally accepted guideline, policy or method of doing something based on practice rather than facts.” A simple example of a rule of thumb is the general guideline that you don’t wear white after Labor Day.

I think we can all agree that there is no guideline for what to do after a global pandemic.

And yet as we move toward “reopening”, we now find ourselves standing at a juncture that is offering us the opportunity to create new rules of thumb for ourselves, to chart new maps and travel new pathways both neural and rural.

Like the hitchhiker, we have the chance to choose old rules of thumb and return to life as we knew it or we can ask ourselves whether or not the fear of staying where we are is greater than the fear of where we might go.

Listen to Audio Version here!

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Also by Lisa Hopkins:

Use Your Words

The Syncopated Rhythm of Life

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Positive hitchhiker enjoys dancing on mountain vacation. Happy woman moving her hands during a nature trip. Joyful girl wears travel clothes backpack outside. Smiling tourist having fun on vacation. Vacation concept

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female solo hitchhiker in the Caucasus and the Middle East

“I will someday go out for bread and accidentally leave the country” - many people love this phrase, and some even fall into similar stories. Minsker Anya Parkhomenko left to travel alone with a 33-liter backpack for almost a year.

I came back and realized that I was sad

My name is Anya, and I spent 10 months hitchhiking in the Caucasus and a little bit in the Near and Middle East. Of this year, two months have passed in Iran, three in Turkey, plus Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia (including Dagestan and Chechnya).

How did it happen? I, like everyone else, studied at the university and worked in my last year. Having received a diploma, she decided to quit and in 2016 she left for a month in Ukraine. I came back and realized that I was sad. I looked for work abroad, then I packed my 33-liter backpack and went to Moscow without a tent, sleeping bag or mat.

That November was colder than any month of this winter. I remember walking around Moscow in a jacket and pants for snowboarding, -6 °C, snow. After 4 days, I moved on. I already had a plan in my head, I dreamed about Georgia for three years.

I went alone and hitchhiked. Why? It seemed more difficult to find a fellow traveler: it's like living with someone, plus a bunch of other questions. The longest I traveled with one girl in Turkey - three weeks. I think being a good travel companion is like being a good friend.

"In Iran, the most hospitable country, I was often introduced to all my surroundings, friends and relatives"

The most unusual apartment is in a cave

Alone you are more mobile, it is easy to find a company and a place of residence. Where did I fit in? Mostly through couchsurfing. But in Iran and Azerbaijan there were cases when a car picked me up, and then the driver invited me to his home.

So I fit in with good families. In Azerbaijan, the driver dropped me off on the outskirts of Baku, where I caught a car to the center. The man asked for a long time about my travels, then his wife arrived, and I told the two of them. For them it was so amazing that they invited me to stay with them, and I hung out there for 5 days.
Now, if you do not pay for verification on couchsurfing, you can send a limited number of requests, but I always had enough of them. I looked at other people's profiles and wrote personalized questions. In Iran, the most hospitable country, I was often introduced to all my surroundings, friends and relatives.

You can use public trip: indicate which city you are going to and what is important to you. I wrote that I do not need guides and excursions, but it is important to meet local people. They contacted me themselves, and this figure reached 30 messages per day. Public trip is a good way for those who don't want to seem intrusive.

It's also good to have reviews, at least a few, and fill out the profile completely, add a lot of photos and tell about your interests.

Most memorable host? Oh, there are many. For example, we had a check-in in Cappadocia in a cave, equipped like an apartment. It was cold there. You open the door in the rock - and there is a room, a table, a Turkish stove, a bed. Everything is. Windows too, yes.

I had a registration on a yacht in Batumi, in a cabin. I like it. Shakes. A small room and the same window, a large bed, and you go out - the sea.

Many hitchhikers have a magical mindset

My transportation was mostly hitchhiking, sometimes buses, trains and once even a plane. Isn't it scary? There were dumb moments, but if it’s completely scary, it’s better to stay at home.

I also had to open the doors in the car on the go - in Georgia, for example. The scariest moment was in Iran on the way to the small town of Asaluyeh. I was taken to the ruins, squeezed by two men and wanted sex "for two minutes." I had to conduct long negotiations and run away. Then I asked the next host to come along with me and negotiate with the driver for me.

I don't know if it's worth talking about because the victim is often blamed. But it is necessary to tell, because many people see hitchhiking through rose-colored glasses. Freedom, fun, free.

What can be done to make women's hitchhiking safe? I think to educate people. Many believe that everything will be fine if you tune in positively. But I moved away from magical thinking: after the situation in Iran, I realized that this does not work. Anyone can face any situation. And it does not even depend on whether the girl is wearing makeup or not, in jeans, a T-shirt or a potato sack. You need to behave carefully, but this will not help to insure against all situations.

I don't encourage anyone to hitchhike, and I myself realized not so long ago that the crown won't fall off me if I sometimes take a bus or train.

“The scariest moment was in Iran on the way to the small town of Asaluyeh. I was taken to the ruins, squeezed by two men and wanted sex "for two minutes"

I had to extract a tooth without insurance

How about safety? For example, in Georgia, leaving things and stepping aside is normal. I know only one case: we spent the night in the center of Batumi in tents, between the Radisson Hotel and the sea. Among us were Russians, Georgians, Armenians. I left for a while, I return, and a couple tells me that their money was stolen from them. Looks like it's from a tent. But in general, in Georgia, you don’t have to worry about thefts, when compared with stories about Spain or Latin America.

Did I have anything that could be called problems? Yes, the wisdom tooth is inflamed. They helped me: the host had a friend who was a dentist. We went to her. The clinic took a picture and said that the tooth needed to be removed. I had to tear it up the same day. I did not have insurance, but it would be better to take it with me.

Nothing more serious happened to me, only colds and once - poisoning. In Anaklia - this is a famous resort in Georgia - at the festival I wanted to meet a friend. This failed. That same evening, I got poisoned, and the guys from the bar at the entrance to the festival helped me. She lived in their tent until she left. For two days it was so bad that I had to call an ambulance.

A couple of times there was nowhere to sleep. In Georgia, my fellow traveler and I left the guest house to sleep on a bench. A room in the guest house was rented by Georgians, friends of the cook from the restaurant, where we were fed for free. These Georgians stayed with us, drank beer and then became inadequate. They did not pester, but, for example, at two in the morning they brought cookies or constantly came to say something. That night we also tried to sleep on the couch at the police station, but we were refused.

100 Turkish words per day

Did I know English before leaving? Yes, I taught it at school and university, but I didn’t use it much. In the Caucasian countries - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan - it was not needed, many people there speak Russian. Although in Georgia it is rather the older generation, I communicated with young people in English. The more you communicate, the better you speak.

It was difficult in Turkey, we had to use google translator and learn 100 Turkish words a day. Before trips, we translated typical phrases: “where are you going”, “we are hitchhikers”. Then they usually ask a bunch of questions, and we understand only a few words from them. The Turkish language is difficult, like German, it seems to me. But after a week we could explain ourselves normally: say hello, ask how you are and where we are going.

Our host in Ankara wondered: “How did you learn all this in a week?” And there were almost no problems with Farsi in Iran. I started to learn it in Cappadocia and went with a mini-dictionary. But the stress was all the same: I could not read anything in their script. Two months later I learned, albeit with errors. For example, the names of metro stations in Tehran. By the way, the Iranians are very supportive in learning the language, they do not laugh at someone else's accent.

“Max Korzh had me in mind when he wrote on his Instagram that he met a countrywoman in Iran”

Who is Max Korzh?

It was me that Max Korzh had in mind when he wrote on his Instagram that he had met a countrywoman in Iran. The meeting was in the city of Kerman, where I went for a couple of days from Bandar Abbas. On the way, the host writes to me: “Do you know who Max Korzh is?” And I change from one car to another and think: why does he ask me these strange questions? How does he know about it?

I am writing: “Let me answer you later.” He asked again. Already in the city asks again. I say: “I know! This is a famous Belarusian singer.” - "What do you say if I tell you that he is sitting in my car?" - "What!?"

The car was very collapsed, the trunk hardly closed. I open the door and see: Max Korzh and his manager are sitting! They also hitchhiked to Kerman and wandered around the city looking for a backdrop for the video.

What a coincidence! By the way, they never took anything off. It got dark, and we went to visit a friend of the host, who was a rapper, and he and Max had a battle.

Without a towel but with dance shoes

How can you go away for a year with a 33 liter backpack? I took the most ordinary things with me: hygiene items, a couple of T-shirts, a scarf, sneakers. I didn't have towels. No, there were no dresses, but there were dancing shoes and a skirt. The most necessary thing in winter travel! (laughs) In the end, I left them in Yerevan, hoping to pick them up.

My wardrobe was changing. I gave things away, threw them away, left them to the hosts... I bought some more. One scarf hangs on the coast in Georgia because I forgot it. I asked the guys I knew to pick it up, but they left it on a palm tree. It was a gift from my Iranian friend.

Did I dance? Yes, in different cities and countries. Everywhere I found parties of social dances, and there I met people. But more often she danced in sneakers, so the shoes were not useful in many places.

It's strange, but it is in Iran that one wants to dance and sing most of all. Their culture, music and instruments are something. But women are forbidden to dance in the street because of Islam, and therefore girls often sing while driving and dance at home. Men are allowed to sing and dance traditional dances.

I ended up going to many house parties. In general, I dance social dances - bachata, kizomba, zouk, a little salsa. It was in Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

Everyone was looking at me!

What was it like for me in Iran? It's okay, you just have to accept their rules, the same dress code. Guys can’t walk except in shorts, but for women this is important: you must wear a headscarf. At first, my friends even told me: “You go even more closed than the Iranians.”

They wear short tunics, and I wore dresses almost to the knee. The forearms should also be covered, but they do not like all these rules, because the country was originally not Islamic. Their rules are restrictive, and headscarves are worn there for half a head. At first it was difficult to get used to, but then it even became comfortable: in the south it was about +30 ° C, but I was in a thin shirt, leggings and a light scarf. It helps when the sun is out. I used to leave the fitting room forgetting to put on a scarf. Everyone was looking at me!

"In Iran, the most hospitable country, I was often introduced to all my surroundings, friends and relatives"

During the first month in Georgia, I could not spend a penny

How did I eat? Differently. In any city you can find an eatery or canteen where you can eat for a couple of dollars or buy street food. In Georgia, it was khachapuri, in Armenia - shawarma, for example. In general, in the summer in the Caucasus, very tasty fruits, vegetables and ice cream.

But most of the time I was fed by the hosts. As my host in Ankara said, all a guest has to do in Turkey is sit and eat. And in another place, my fellow traveler and I were promised that if we stay here for a month, we will weigh 100 kilograms.

There was no need to starve. What would I do if the money ran out? Probably, I would go to volunteer in a hostel, they often do that. You live and eat there, sometimes they give you pocket money. I would go to work in Turkey. Modeling, I think, as I did in Cappadocia.

During the first month in Georgia, I could not spend a penny. I entered there with my own money, plus they gave me five lari (that's $ 2). And when I left, it seems there were even more of them. As a result, she returned with the same amount as before her departure, plus what she earned in Turkey. How much did you take with you? About $100 in different currencies.

Would I return if everything went wrong? I knew for sure that I didn’t want to go to Belarus. Several times I woke up in fear that I was in Belarus.

I want to work and learn Spanish

The feeling that it's time to go home does not appear for someone for years. And mine is a year later. I'm tired of constantly moving, changing places every 2-7 days. I was also tired of the heat - at times it was +40 ° C.

Is it difficult to return? No, it's hard to stay in one place afterwards. And it was a joy to be back. Over the past 24 hours, I have traveled 1,500 kilometers from the Stavropol Territory to Moscow, got out of the heat into dull gray weather and ... I was so happy! Cool.

When I got bored in Minsk, I went to Moscow and now I live between these two cities. For now, I want to work and learn Spanish so I can go to Latin America. Definitely do not want to stay in Minsk yet: I know every little bit here.

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