So, what is screendance? Posed by newcomers and experts alike, it’s a question Friday’s screening Embracing Screendance aimed to tackle with a varied programme and did so at breakneck speed. First up, Alta is misleadingly simple. While the danger of the throw and catch duet is magnified by imposing concrete surroundings, my eyes are tricked: ‘has this been sped up or are they really somersaulting that fast?’. It’s as though the camera is a manipulative messenger between choreographer and spectator, one who presents himself with varying degrees of subtlety. In Denominador Común, this takes a little getting used to. A house full of racing dancers is busy, almost overly so, and the frames rush past too fast for the eyes to settle. I realised director Juan Carlos Lo Sasso’s restrictive camera angles had succeeded in playing with my mind when I started craning to see un-filmed movement (and subsequently feigning neck ache to avoid embarrassment in front of fellow spectators). Though at times frustrating, the effect is engaging, and I cling to the image of a body suspended mid–launch as the scene is cut before he lands.
The Circle and Yacht Club Swing reap the benefits of site-specific filming. The Circle embraces a brotherhood, whose birthplace (Hackney, London) is instrumental to its physical expression of affection, exasperation and confrontation of social challenges. After a series of sombre film contributions, Yacht Club Swing flooded The Place with some well-needed light. The realities of gentrification are pressing in this guided tour of Chatsworth Road, but there’s something so infectious about the dancer’s tapping feet and graceful leaps from the thresholds of local shops that ultimately laughter prevails. Yacht Club Swing was like a digestif after a heavy meal; strategically scheduled at the end of the evening, it gave us the headspace to take in the programme’s multiple interpretations of screendance as a genre. I welcomed this re-establishment of the screening’s ebb and flow, so hard to find in a quick succession of short films, each with its own climax.
Saturday kicked off with Everybody (Screen)dance: energetic, jubilant and refreshing in its lack of esotericism. Young dancers at the helm, the standout contributions juxtaposed the unadulterated joy of dancing children with the tendency adults have to be distracted by the past. In Bunny and Can’t Press Repeat, identity oozes out of every kick and the young dancers’ focus illuminates their grey surroundings (a deserted skate park and a green urban space on an overcast day). Salvo By Herself, however, is consumed by nostalgia, searching for a lost identity in the power stance and grubby feet of her younger self, whose image intermittently replaces her own. Through this collection of films, the curators of Frame Rush laudably managed to portray the idea ‘being present’ as not eye-role worthy, but simple, honest and embodied by the dancers’ absolute commitment to their physicality. As with Yacht Club Swing the previous night, I appreciated the light relief of Float, which transported us to a day at the lido where the dancers are stationary and the bathers buzz by. Director Sofie Parsons seems to be telling us to catch our breath and hit pause on our busy lives (was this a sign?).
The sheer fun of marrying dance and film is at the heart of the screening’s other works, including the promotional film Stopgap in Stop Motion and the Wes Anderson–esque Cinderella Games of the English National Ballet. After all, if remixing music is all the rage, it seems only logical that dance would join the trend. Directors of Digital Afterlives certainly enjoyed editing the solo swinging and falling of dancer Richard James Allan and I quickly lost track of how many copies of the white waistcoat wearing figure swirl across the black space.
Next was the showcase Graduate Screendance by last year’s MA cohort. Critical evaluations of the genre (Screendance Music Videos: The Case for Academic Attention and What is Urban Dance on Screen?) make a valid case for not snubbing examples of screendance in pop culture and ensuring accurate representations of urban dance within it; screendance is not as niche as we thought! An intriguing insight into the minds of current creators, films such as Concrete Kisses cause us to reconsider texture and perspective; Pui Yung Shum’s delicately draped body makes the concrete slabs of London’s Southbank seem like a feather bed.
As a parting gift, curators brought us Unfolding Screendance. T.I.A. (This is Africa) is extraordinarily powerful; Aïpeur Foundou explores the freedom in his limbs amidst rubble, teaming Brazzaville traffic, bewildered passers-by and the accompanying voiceover, ‘tu ne peux pas être libre’ (you cannot be free). The Embrace of the Valkyries, though equally stunning in its emotional conviction, began well before the intensity of T.I.A. (This is Africa) had stopped seeping out of the cinema screen. But Alan Lake’s fantastical and mythological scenes don’t disappoint either; foetal bodies encased in an iron vault and smothered in honeylike liquid are equal parts intriguing and disturbing. I have never found hindsight to be so impactful on my experience of dance than in the case of this finale. Looking back on these short films from the confines of national lockdown throws an almost prophetic light on their insistence of the ability of digital art to connect us as humans, no matter where or who we are. Curators asked the audience ‘what place will screendance hold in the future?’. It’s exciting to think that the answer might be more significant than they even imagined, as screendance becomes a lifeline to dance lovers stuck at home and an interesting discovery for those seeking a new pastime. Yet I think it deserves more, to be considered not as substitute for live practice, but as a collaborative art form which grasps hold of the new creative avenues that technology builds. Frame Rush was a jam-packed eye opener and I will certainly return next year.