At The Place, the first cohort of students for the only MA in Screendance in the world started their studies in 2018. In Spring 2019, we held London’s first international screendance festival Frame Rush at The Place, followed by Trinity Laban’s London International Screendance Festival.
Screendance is coming out of its niche and into the foreground. We can’t help but think that the current lockdown situation, with theatres closed across the globe, is only fuelling that momentum. At the beginning of May, the Guardian chose to review Flatpack screendance festival, potentially not something the mainstream paper would have considered giving its attention to before lockdown. Screendance has always felt like a glimpse of the future, just around the corner, but very quickly, by force of a pandemic, it has become our presence.
We do not know how long social distancing will accompany our everyday lives, but for the time being, the only way for performance to exist in on screen. Countless theatres have taken to streaming recordings, but these files are usually filmed for archive purposes, a record of a live event that was always created to have its maximum effect when experienced in person at the venue. Rather than a substitute for live practice, screendance has a fundamentally different intention, grasping hold of the new creative avenues that technology offers. Liz Aggiss a practitioner in the field and a professor says: “screen dance is dance made especially for the camera or screen where choreography and screen practice reside together. It is about inventing a movement language that can only exist on and for the screen.”
The relationship between both the camera and the moving subject is intricately intertwined in the editing process delivering a filmic dance. The result is not simply a recorded performance, which always has to be second best to a live experience, but a unique visual experience in itself, exploring movement not just of the body, but it also includes the movement of the camera, frames and editing process.
One of the most bemoaned missing aspects of experiencing recorded live theatre is the inability to choose our own point of view, something Zee Hartmann describes as the “moratorium of the audiences ability to direct their own eye” in Springback Magazine. On the other hand, we do all appreciate having the best seat in the house, with detailed views and close up action. The 70-year old choreographer Richard Alston recently discovered, forced by lockdown, how “exhilarating can be the marriage of a moving camera and dancers flying by. It’s made me seriously think about whether the speed and detail which I so love in dance does indeed come across more clearly with good camerawork – and more engagingly perhaps than on stage. What a thought! But it could well be true.”
In screendance, the point of view is from the very beginning directed by the creator, choreographed into the piece. The camera is the eye, framing and focusing the action and screening out other information. “This ability to dissect details and shed light on parts while omitting others that are not necessary essential to the subject matter, gives screendance an investigation tool that is very unique” explains Douglas Rosenberg in his book Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image.
Even before the pandemic, our lives seemed to move more and more towards screens and online existence, and that move has only been accelerated by current events. If contemporary choreographers want to reflect the way we live and perceive life, screendance is quite obviously a visual language very much of our time. But it feels even more important than that. Could Screendance be a way to future proof the dance industry? In the future, choreographers may well want to become more familiar with cinema as an art, as well as with how a camera works, its sensibility, its frames and angles and include those considerations early on in the creative process. Expertise in how to best present movement through the camera may well become an enormously valuable currency.
Omari ‘Motion’ Carter, founder and creative director of screendance production company The Motion Dance Collective, was part of the first cohort of MA Screendance students. Now working with BA2 students and EDGE, as well as with Lincoln University and UEL Urban Dance Practice students, he is convinced screendance is much more than the fad it might risk feeling like in these current times: “Now, more than ever, digitised dance has become so important to the maintenance of an ongoing practice of students and professionals globally. Hopefully this spike of interest will invigorate our moving image and dance artists to thoughtfully examine how bodies are being captured on screen and investigate all the beautiful pioneers of this form that have come before us and currently shape it.”
The scientist Max Mc Keown defines success as the “powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” And screendance is an artform that takes to our new digital world and doesn’t just survive but thrive.