Flatpack screendance festival review – dance that leaps through the screen

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These short works, which include performances by a dream lineup of choreographers, are an array of innovation

Screendance – that is, dance created specifically for camera, not stage – has been around for years. It has global festivals and its own academic journal, yet it’s always seemed to sit on the fringes of the dance world, a poor cousin to the live experience.

The rise of social media and a new generation of digital-native choreographers are slowly changing that, but it’s just possible that this period when theatres are dark will push screendance further into the foreground. There are new releases popping up everywhere, from ballet companies (Kenneth Tindall’s Ego for Northern Ballet) and broadcasters (Botis Seva for Channel 4) to online magazines (Nowness.com has a great archive of dance shorts) and independent artists (I recommend Lanre Malaolu’s The Conversation, premiering 18 May on the BFIs Facebook page).

A thrillerish edge ... Tremble by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple.
A thrillerish edge ... Tremble by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple. Photograph: ScreenDance Shorts

Now there’s also the Flatpack screendance competition, featuring 12 shortlisted films made by choreographers from around the world. It’s an eclectic bunch of offerings, from the reflections of a hip-hop dancer in physical rehab to a dancing maid with murder on her mind; there’s no shortage of original ideas. Veronica Solomon’s Love Me, Fear Me is a skilful animation about the multiplicity of self, that creates actual choreography for lumps of clay. The intriguing Luna by Greta O’Brien Vial is both a glam, leftfield music video and a sweet little girl’s dream of her mum as an exotic bird-superwoman (it definitely contains a message for now, but I won’t spoil that).

There’s comic surrealism and offbeat invention in Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Tremble, danced by Scottish Ballet. Involving frenetically dancing waiters, red jelly and a thrillerish edge, it’s cleverly filmed – the camera is almost a character itself – although unlike the best screendance, Tremble doesn’t entirely escape its theatrical setting.

Kosta Karakashyan’s Waiting for Color is a truly shocking six minutes. Karakashyan dances against a soundtrack of genuine testimonies from LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya who have been tortured because of their sexuality. It’s hard to concentrate on the dance because the words are so chilling, but Karakashyan moves with hard jolts and swift stealth, a body of expression, skill and power; a body standing its ground and not about to give up.

William Forsythe in And So Say All of Us
A choreographic hall of fame ... William Forsythe in And So Say All of Us. Photograph: ScreenDance Shorts

For mere star power, though, director Mitchell Rose’s And So Say All of Us wins out. It’s like a choreographic hall of fame, featuring 52 choreographers passing the baton in a dance relay, from Bill T Jones to Angelin Preljocaj to Lin Hwai-Min to Meredith Monk. The film is strangely prescient of current times, looking like all those lockdown videos with dancers filming solos in their kitchens and living rooms, gardens and parks, connected by technology. David Dorfman barges his way down a busy New York subway platform and you’re about to yell “Social distancing!” before remembering this comes from a time before corona, which seems like another world.

It’s a simple idea very well executed, connecting across continents and generations – many of these masters are mature and greying and it’s wonderful to see them dance. Each performer has only a few seconds, whether that’s William Forsythe doing an elegant port de bras in a cramped corridor, Doug Varone getting eggs at a diner or Benjamin Millepied on his kids’ trampoline, but it’s silly, soulful, and inadvertently, very now.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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