Thessaloniki Cinedance International 2020

Thessaloniki Cinedance International 2020

| October 2020

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

The third edition of Thessaloniki Cinedance International (TCI) took place in October 2020, just before the second round of Covid lockdown in Greece put a halt to all cultural activities.

TCI is an independent annual festival presenting screendance works from around the world to the local audience. Launched in 2018 by the local non-profit Die Wolke art group, it is currently the only videodance festival in a city with a well-known International Film Festival and a plethora of other annual screen festivals on documentaries, animation, short films, music films, and more.

According to Die Wolke, TCI aspires to present innovative ideas about how the ever-evolving cinematic medium can employ dance, and how choreographers and performers can use the moving image – leading to an evolution of the language of this artistic crossover.

The third edition of the festival featured 38 films from 18 countries. Rather than have an overall theme for the festival, the organisers are primarily concerned with the use of cinematic techniques and technologies, and their combination with choreography and performance: ‘Idea, image, sound, composition, choreography, interpretation, are the main axes that shape the choice. Many times, however, the meaning or value of a work resides among them, so the aforementioned criteria are not a set rule.’ Due to Covid regulations, in addition to the screenings, the works were also available online on demand – a platform the festival plans to maintain in the future.

A power possesses dinner party guests in Scottish Ballet’s Tremble, by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple

Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Tremble (UK) is a light, comical short film produced and performed by Scottish Ballet. An unrevealed power takes possession of the guests at a fancy dinner party, secretly capturing them one by one and transforming them into dancing waiters and waitresses. Taking place in an abstract dining room set on a theatre stage, the rigorous and highly technical waitressing ballet is juxtaposed with the slow motion of the guests at this decadent party. The overall aesthetics of the film, the expressiveness of the characters, the use of colour and the kaleidoscopic choreographic patterns bring to mind Wes Anderson movies. The humorous cartoonish movement quality is enhanced with the use of reverse motion at specific moments of the choreography, giving supernatural abilities to the dancers. By the end, a troupe of waiters is serving ‘trembling’ red jelly to the sole remaining guest. As they struggle to balance the jelly on their silver plates, the tremble transfers to their dancing until the whole group shaking like jelly on a plate.

Tremble was created for the company’s Digital Season programme, a platform dedicated to creating and presenting dance works specifically for the digital realm, as an attempt to make dance more accessible and to alter and inform the way we experience it as viewers – an objective that becomes urgent now, in the Covid era.

Oona Doherty: A Concrete Song

In A Concrete Song (UK), dancer and choreographer Oona Doherty composes a poetic reflection on her hometown, Belfast. A concrete song is also the title of her original poem that we hear her reciting in the two-minute film, along with an underlying music score.

Dressed in a leather jacket, sweatpants and sneakers, Doherty guides us around the pubs, night clubs and streets of Belfast. A lonely figure in a seemingly empty town, she animates these various spaces with her dancing. Her movement language, detailed and gestural, combines with the words of the poem and the urban imagery to portray a city full of contradictions.

‘All at the same time nothing / the adrenaline future / small town / generational cellular imbalance / hail to the dot / an inward shove / fucking Belfast love.’

The camera follows her explosive dancing, in close-ups that highlight sharp gestures and intense facial expressions, and in distant travelling shots that reveal the stillness of the spaces and the dancer’s loneliness. The ways in which she distorts her body and face reveal an internal state that contradicts the quiet around her.

Attention and alienation: Klaas Diersmann’s Divided We Scroll

Human loneliness in the urban environment is also central in Klaas Diersmann’s Divided We Scroll (UK), investigating our relationship to our screens and devices, and the ways we stay connected through technology but remain physically distant. It is part of the Life Rewired programme at London’s Barbican Centre, which explores ‘what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.’

In the five-minute film, Diersmann depicts a familiar world through a dystopian lens: people in the metro and other public spaces, unsmiling faces, eyes locked onto their screens. Even as they start gradually moving with spasmodic motions, each one is fully absorbed into their phones, without the slightest interaction with anyone else. The movement becomes smoother as the individuals merge into a mass of bodies and phones that melts towards the floor. The dystopian ambience is accentuated by the lighting: dark spaces and nightscapes dimly lit, the glow of phone screens reflecting on faces, and futuristic sculptures formed by blue fluorescent lamps against the dark sky.

Shots of massive modern architecture alternate with the scenery of an urban garden full of tropical green plants. The ambience here is calm and quiet, but the dancers’ movement is still reminiscent of the dependence on technology. Their eyes are closed and they don’t hold phones any more, but their hands mechanically perform the scrolling and tapping micromovements they are used to. Scattered shots of hands caressing leaves and dancers moving slowly together, in touch with each other, provide some grounding and a break from the dystopia.

Waiting in prison walls: Jo Kreiter’s The Wait Room

Jo Kreiter’s <em>The Wait Room (Flyaway Productions, USA) deals with the experience of women who have family members spending time in prison. Shot in black and white and set in front of an immense building – possibly a prison complex – all action takes place on a special mechanical construction. Four dancers are sitting on chairs, one of them elevated higher up on the construction. An auditory rhythm builds up, composed of clock strikes, melodic fragments and repeated words.

‘And so you are waiting.’ This introductory phrase, repeated over and over in combination with the initial stillness of the dancers, establishes the concept of the film: time, and a sense of indisposition against the prison system. As the voiceover unfolds, we listen to the thoughts and comments of different women on their experiences of the prison institutions and their consequences – psychological, social and financial. The dancers perform recurring gestural motifs that respond to the rhythmic soundscape and reflect the character and the content of the text.

As the film evolves, the choreography employs the concept of suspension as a metaphor for the state these women find themselves in. The set construction becomes a huge spinning top and a dancer performs an acrobatic solo around it, suspended with a rope. There is beautiful lightness in her movement and at the same time a sense of risk and vulnerability. The film ends with another dancer suspended from the construction – she stays still while perpetually spinning around it.

Escalating nightmare: Vincent René-Lortie’s The Man Who Traveled Nowhere in Time

Vincent René-Lortie’s The Man Who Traveled Nowhere in Time (CA), made with Montreal’s Trip the Light Fantastic dance company, also explores the concept of time and our subjective perception of it. A group of dancers inhabit a large country house. The camera guides us around the different rooms, where various stories and relationships unfold: a silhouette solo at the entrance, a fighting duet in the bedroom, an agonising group dance on the staircase, a conversing duet in the living room. A female voice narrates a story about a man who ‘never moved, never changed, never became anything different.’ Detailed, realistic scenography and soft lighting contrast with the bizarre scenes: a woman emerging naked from the bathtub, a man lying naked on a table, another struggling with himself in the garden.

The choreography alternates abrupt interpretative hand motions and facial expressions with agile partnering duets. The emotionally intense performance of the dancers, accentuated by oblique camera angles and quick cuts, create an urgency which escalates towards the finale, much like in a nightmarish dream.

Confined living: Giorgia Damasco’s Back Home

This year’s programme also featured short films created and themed around the first 2020 quarantine. Giorgia Damasco’s Back Home (IT) and Kailee McMurran’s Catherine (USA) both deal with the concept of home and the ways we interact with our personal spaces, which in turn shape our identities. In Back Home, a woman explores her balcony as a potential living space. The stop-motion accumulation of stuff around her brings on a commentary on what is necessary for living and what becomes a burden. Catherine is a witty short, where a woman is gradually revealed to be a cat – the metaphor brilliantly achieved through McMurran’s uncanny performance of cat actions and reactions.

Cat woman? Kailee McMurran’s Catherine

As Covid restrictions continue around the world and creators continue to explore this new sense of confinement with their cameras, this new category of quarantine works might pop up more often in future screendance festivals. 

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Thessaloniki, Greece