London International Screendance Festival 2019

London International Screendance Festival 2019

| 19–20 September 2019

Note: some videos below will no longer be viewable 3 months after publication of this article

Screendance is a ‘thing’. While still an incredibly niche practice within the already niche genre of dance, this hybrid artform of movement and media, where the choreography of the body and the choreography of the camera are of equal importance, is creating a new visual language that speaks very obviously of and to our time.

In 2019, London has in fact seen two new screendance festivals: Frame Rush at The Place in March, led by postgraduate students; and the London International Screendance Festival at Trinity Laban in September, curated by choreographer Charles Linehan. Linehan worked three years to take this project from seed idea to fruition, and with his panel viewed over 200 entries from across the globe. The first edition of this now biennial Festival showed 24 dance films, including 5 world premieres, demonstrating the eye-popping variety of visual language, effects, moods and modes of storytelling this medium allows for.

Unlike the stage, where part of the journey to faraway lands takes place within the audience’s imagination, the screen allows us to watch dance in remote locations, taking us into urban environments or desolate landscapes, the Paris metro or a lonely beach in northern England. The need for the dancing body to interact with nature feels overwhelming, as film-maker after film-maker is drawn to capture dance in the forest or by the water, revelling in the beauty of its mirroring effect for the moving body.

In Les Sirènes – Chant XII (Switzerland), Philippe Saire lets his three female dancers move across the urban landscape of Lausanne which is slowly immersed in rising water, until finally the women dive in and disappear like mermaids. The 15-minute meditation results in a deeply mystical film full of symbolism – not least the image of the three norns, goddesses of fate who decide on the end of time with breezy fickleness. Les Sirènes cites Homer’s Odyssey as its model, but it also seems to be saying something about climate change and rising sea levels, with the three playful, silly, sometimes giggly dancers representing the shockingly casual attitude of humankind to the imminent disaster.

A deeply mystical film full of symbolism: Philippe Saire’s Les Sirènes – Chant XII

Harry Brooks’ (UK) contribution to the festival, Silent Imprints, uses the closeness to water to riff on its symbolism for inner turmoil and deeply hidden emotions. His young man, who ‘for whatever reason experiences transition in his life’, delivers a captivating performance, full of vulnerability, aggression, melancholy and a vague sense of longing. When he finally speaks to the camera about his deeply felt loneliness, his words only repeat what has already been said, and instinctively understood, so eloquently by his moving body.

Harry Brooks’ Silent Imprints: a captivating performance of vulnerability, aggression, melancholy and longing

For all the visual trickery on offer, the dance films that work best are those that, just like on stage, have a charismatic performance at the heart of the story. Omari Carter of Motion Dance Collective uses Finding My Feet to let us in on the frustrating struggle of a dancer overcoming injury. A torn meniscus left Carter trapped in a body that could no longer do what it used to. Carter applies a mock-documentary style, talking directly to camera about his experience, which then zooms in on strained trembling muscles while he retrains and occasionally blurs the lens to suggest moments of rage and frustration. Carter is a compelling storyteller, and while you have every intention to focus on his editing and camera angle choices, you end up absorbed in the story.

Omari Carter confronts his inability to move in ways that he once did, in Finding My Feet (Motion Dance Collective)

An equally successful charm offensive is And So say All Of Us by Mitchell Rose (USA), commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music to celebrate its long-standing executive producer Joseph V. Melillo. Rose profits from the collective star power of 52 seminal choreographers doing what they do best, from the ever elegant William Forsythe throwing shapes in an elevator to virtuoso Benjamin Millepied showing off his batterie on a trampoline or mad mime artist James Thierée pulling grimaces. It’s a treat to watch, if maybe a bit commercial: you kind of wonder what they will try to sell you at the end of the trailer.

52 choreographers with connections to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in Mitchell Rose‘s And So Say All of Us

In Floating Chronologies, Mary Fitzgerald and Dimitri von Klein (USA) zap all the colour out of the Arizona desert, the black-and-white sand dunes resembling cracked elephant skin. Shon Kim (Korea) and Lottie Kinslake (UK) use animation and humour, the former editing the illustrations of book pages so that the little figures start to dance with a jagged, Chaplinesque movement quality reminiscent of early black-and-white films.

[Video no longer viewable: Floating Chronologies by Mary Fitzgerald and Dimitri von Klein (USA)]

The technical arsenal of film-making allows for stunning visual effects, such as in Focus by John Degois and Olivier Bonnet (France) where the dancer at the centre of the camera moves forward while the people around him at a busy Paris metro station move in reverse – an idea similar to Coldplay’s music video for The Scientist, and equally poetic and bittersweet.

As poetic and bittersweet as Coldplay: Focus by Jonathan Degois and Olivier Bonnet

Attending a Screendance festival sometimes feels like watching MTV in the 90s: a steady succession of ever-new clips in bite-sized format, waiting for your favourite to come on. Occasionally all the stars align and a film achieves a perfect synthesis of editing, musicality, camera and human movement. Digital Afterlives by Richard James Allen and Karen Pearlman (The Physical TV Company, Australia), sees Allen himself, dressed all in white with winged angel shoes, dance through a black infinity with a bemused look on his face, like someone who just died and went to heaven – only to realise the afterlife isn’t at all what he expected. Or did anyone guess it would be angels in trainers exhaustedly jumping around to Franz Liszt? Brimming with digital effects such as multiplying, overlaying, zooming and shrinking, it is the virtuosic musicality of this choreography of tricks that stands out, and a sweet whimsical humour perhaps comparable to Disney’s masterpiece Fantasia.

[Video no longer viewable: Digital Afterlives by Richard James Allen and Karen Pearlman

Whether we want to admit it or not, staring at screens has become a collective obsession of humankind, and the more we stare the more we get used to – or actually need – an ever-changing kaleidoscope of different impressions and fast editing in our life. Watching 24 films in two evenings, many no longer than a pop song, is an intense experience that can be occasionally overwhelming, but certainly entertaining. When people complain about modern times and millennials, they usually bemoan their allegedly short attention span. The Screendance Festival feels a bit like going down the rabbit hole, binge watching YouTube videos all night – but then, doesn’t that sound like a perfect way to reach a new generation for dance? 

For more information on the full programme programme, including videos not featured here, visit

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London, UK