Film screenings & conversation with Yelena Popova

Footlight Parade & Million Dollar Mermaid

Yelena Popova Artist in Residence SEA Foundation Tilburg The Netherlands Movie Million Dollar Mermaid
Million Dollar Mermaid, Promotional Poster, 1953

SEA Foundation
Screening &


Screening #1

Footlight Parade
Directed by
Lloyd Bacon
1:44 mins


Screening #2

Million Dollar Mermaid
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
1:55 mins

Venue: SEA Foundation
Start: 8 pm
Doors open: 7:45 pm


Discursive program 

Selected by Yelena Popova

Screenings are complimentary to the Artists in Residence programme. SEA Foundation opens its creative dynamic community to international artists and curators and welcome locals and peers to join the conversation and add to the sharing of ideas and knowledge, the very essence of collaboration. In this light we encourage the residents to converse and reflect upon their practice in conversations and screenings. Yelena Popova opted for a film programme on two occasions. She selected these two films as their choreography served as inspiration for a series of open-ended ideas and a future proposal for synchronised swimming performances.

Both movies that Yelena proposed, incorporate a strong presence of stunning synchronised dancing and swimming performances which border to abstraction: human mass and movement becoming one within a synthesised whole. Popova explores how synchronized swimming was used in these movies as part of the medium’s artistic expression. In her research she strives to explore the totality of the medium, analyzing the specific semiotic and technological expressive capabilities of choreography, but also reflecting on the cultural meaning of the medium as a whole, and how this discourse has shifted over time. In doing so, she explores what other possibilities for artistic expression this medium has to offer.

Screening #1

Footlight Parade, 1933
Directed by: Lloyd Bacon
1.44 mins
Choreography: Busby Berkeley


Footlight Parade is an American musical film from 1933, directed by Lloyd Bacon, starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant”. It’s musical and dance numbers, choreographed and directed by Busby Berkeley, are world famous. With respect to artistic swimming, this film and especially Berkeley’s choreography act as an inspiration for Yelena’s work.

Footlight Parade culminates in three musical numbers, “Honeymoon Hotel”, “By A Waterfall”, and “Shanghai Lil”, which are often considered to be iconic for Busby Berkeley’s attention to detail and extravagant staging. The performance ‘By A Waterfall’, features a myriad of water ballerinas who spend a spellbinding section of the film creating hypnotic patterns in the water using nothing but their bodies, before turning into a colossal, human waterfall. It’s difficult to describe the awe-inspiring, kaleidoscopic choreography achieved within this spectacle of the sequence.


Chester Kent, a successful producer of musical comedies, finds himself out of work with the advent of talking pictures. His wife leaves him when he breaks the news to her, but he’s not down for long. He convinces his two partners, Sy Gould and Frazer, to join him in producing prologues, live performances to be presented before the movies are shown, and soon he has more business than he can handle.

Everything does not function smoothly, however. As soon as Chester thinks up ideas, his competitor, Gladstone, beats him to the punch. Added to this is the fact that his partners seem to be cheating him out of his share of the profits. Throughout all the chaos, he depends on his loyal secretary, Nan Prescott, who is madly in love with him, even though he doesn’t realize it. Instead, to Nan’s disgust, he has fallen for Vivian Rich, a gold digging actress.

Then theater chain owner Appolinaris agrees that if Chester can come up with three new shows in three days, he’ll sign all his theaters with him. Frantically, Chester sets to work, locking everyone in the studio to prevent leaks. With Nan’s help, he pays off his ex-wife, collects his share of the profits, discovers Vivian’s true nature, finds the leak and stages his three prologues. The first two numbers are a big success. Then at the last minute, Chester has to go on as the lead in the third because the star is drunk. He performs splendidly, gets the contract and after his last bow, he proposes to Nan.

Screening #2

Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
1:55 minutes
Choreography: Busby Berkeley


Million Dollar Mermaid is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer biographical musical film from 1952 about the life of the Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman, starred by Esther Williams. The cinematography was directed by by George Folsey. It’s choreography was directed by Busby Berkeley and the underwater choreography was directed by Audrene Brier.

“Fountain and Smoke” was one of the most famous water sequences of the movie. The number has been featured in many documentaries on the history of film. In the sequence, colored smoke enhances the water ballet, which includes several water slides and a shot of Esther Williams dropping from high in the air into a circle of swimmers posing in a decorative pattern. A moment later, Williams emerges from the water, surrounded by ignited sparklers, then descends back down, with the water extinguishing the sparklers. According to several modern interviews, the sparkler shots were obtained by lowering Williams into the water, surrounded by lighted sparklers, then reversing the film, making it appear that the sparklers spontaneously combusted.


In the late 19th Century, a polio-stricken Australian girl, Annette Kellerman, swims as a means to improve her health. Her father Frederick, who owns a music conservatory, accepts a teaching position in England. Aboard ship, Annette encounters the American promoter James Sullivan and his associate Doc Cronnol, who are taking a boxing kangaroo called Sydney with them to London. The teaching position falls through and Jimmy suggests promoting Annette in a six-mile swim to Greenwich. She volunteers to make it 26 miles instead. Word spreads of the swim and Annette’s feat makes news.

Jimmy suggests they can make a fortune by going to New York and appearing in a water ballet at the Hippodrome. Manager Alfred Harper does not offer them a job in the show, so Annette goes to Boston for a highly publicized swim and gets in hot water for wearing a one-piece suit too revealing for its time.

She and Jimmy have a misunderstanding and part ways. Harper has a change of heart and makes Annette headliner of his New York show. As time passes, Harper falls in love with Annette while she travels to Hollywood to make a film. Jimmy and Doc turn up again. A water tank bursts during the making of Annette’s film, causing her serious spinal injury. With her future in doubt, Harper steps aside when he sees for himself how much Annette and Jimmy are in love.

Exhibition and residency

Read more: Yelena Popova Artist in Residence
Read more: Exhibition Routines and Figures | Strokes, Tricks and Floating Formations.

Public founding by Arts Council England, Sea Foundation, Netherlands
Mondriaan Fund SEA Foundation Netherlands