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The seemingly relentless march of digital media into our everyday lives has only been accelerated by the global coronavirus pandemic. More than ever before, we shop online, work online, communicate online. Dance has, of necessity, shifted online too.
Screened dance or screendance?
In some ways, this is nothing new: dance and film have been partners since the beginning of cinema, and ‘screendance’ has developed into its own distinct art form. ‘Screendance, in a very wide definition, consists of choreography that’s been created specifically for the screen, and directly in collaboration with audio visual materials,’ says Marisa Hayes, a screendance specialist and the co-curator of the International Video Dance Festival of Burgundy, France. ‘In the 40s, Maya Deren, a seminal figure in the development of the genre, said that a filmdance’ – specific terms have changed over time – ‘is a dance that cannot exist anywhere else outside the film.’
In short, Hayes is pointing towards the difference between screened dance and screendance. For many, the former – making recordings of live performance available on the internet – is problematic. Much stage work does not translate well into the digital space, yet as an economical way of showing dance for presenters and audiences alike, there is the worry that screened dance will replace live performance. This has been exacerbated by strides forward in livestreaming and scheduled viewings that somewhat recreate the collective sense of theatre. Streaming’s potential to reach wider, global audiences without touring-induced carbon emissions also can’t go unnoted.
A chance to experiment
Regardless of their take on screened dance, many artists have been turning to the screendance during the pandemic: an artform that allows them to create work that will be seen in the medium it was made for. This experimentation has been encouraged by dance organisations, who are offering funding, commissions, and online screendance workshops. ‘In November we had so many requests to join our workshops that we couldn’t fit everyone in: 40 people applied and there were only 15 slots. We ran an extra one in December to accommodate the interest,’ says Adriana Almeida Pees, director of dance at Theater Freiburg in Germany, which is also home to its own International Screendance Festival.
This new-found interest is largely welcomed by the screendance community. ‘Screendance is perhaps used to a sort of modus operandi of being a niche, or the poor cousin of other artforms. Now, there’s potential to expand and diversify, and to reach across to popular culture,’ says UK-based Claudia Kappenberg, founder editor of the International Journal of Screendance citing the BBC/Netflix crime drama Giri/Haji’s concluding dance scene as an example of screendance infiltrating mainstream media.
Some, however, are wary of screendance being viewed as second best to live performance. ‘There are many artists who have been working in screendance for years, who have been trying to encourage appreciation of the medium as something different from live dance, not in competition with it,’ says Hayes. Furthermore, Kappenberg argues that ‘in the history of the arts there has always been this idea that photography would be the death of painting, or that cinema would be the death of theatre. This has never come to pass. So screendance won’t be the death of live dance, ever. It would be great if they collaborated more.’