The closure of theatres encouraged dance companies to turn themselves towards digital creations
For its 40th edition, Montreal’s International Arts Film Festival (FIFA) presented a varied program inspired by the pandemic context of the last several years. In particular, they showcased a large number of dance films. So many, in fact, that they organized a seven-hour projection event titled La Nuit de la danse to show the majority of them. Following this event, the movies will all be available on their website.
Among the dance films, Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother: The Final Cut kicked off the event. The 36-minute movie features nine dancers in different settings. They moved together in a group, with filming techniques making them look like a large, agitated crowd. Depending on the space, their identities seemed to change; in one scene they wore dresses and suits in an empty reception hall, while in another they were dressed in all-beige outfits in a dark room with walls made of brick and stones. The rhythmic music used drew viewers in from the start. Throughout the film, Shechter alternated between using sound effects like drums and the electric guitar, along with a low voice.
Shechter created this film when the presentation of his show on stage was cancelled due to the pandemic. The Israeli choreographer is a major figure in the contemporary dance scene. Founded in 2008, his company tours internationally. Shechter’s recognizable style, including large arm movements, intricate sequences and synchronous choreographies, is present in Political Mother. Seeing the choreographer’s work on screen gives a different access to the movements’ details and the interpreters’ facial expressions. The smooth-moving camera also gives life to the work, almost assuming the position of another character in the story.
According to Jacinthe Brisebois, 60 per cent of FIFA’s screendance programming comes from Quebec. The list includes two solo pieces choreographed by Margie Gillis and produced by Louis-Martin Charest. Titled When Dreaming Molly and Crow, they both take place in dark minimalist spaces, focusing on the interpreter’s movements with a precise use of lighting.
Louise Bédard and Xavier Curnillon presented Démesure, created in Quebec City’s fine arts museum, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Architectural details and playful movements merge in this 11-minute film, where a black and white visual aesthetic complements the museum’s immaculate white environment. Using the museum’s large, curved stairs as one its main settings, the film explores depth and freedom through group sequences, duets, and solos. The closeness to the dancers created by the camera balances the immensity of the arts institution.
Dance and the pandemic
22 dance films were presented at La Nuit de la danse, while two longer screen creations are part of the festival’s general programming as well. Brisebois explained that FIFA’s selection committee received a particularly large number of dance film submissions this year, therefore encouraging the programming team to organize an event dedicated to them.
For Brisebois, those creations were a way of presenting dance differently, as more than simple footage of a show on a stage. “When we see those films, it is completely different from what we would see in a live art show and that, we think, is really creative.”
Pandemic measures prevented dance shows from happening during different periods over the course of the past three years. To support the dance field, arts councils dedicated specific budgets to digital projects. The Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec’s 2020-2021 budget report notes that they granted $3.5 million to digital projects in addition to their regular funding programs. Similarly, the Canada Council for the Arts states the support of “the ongoing digital transformation” as one of their priorities “for a strong rebuild of the arts sector.”
In the 2021 text Virtualised Dance? Digital shifts in artistic practices, researcher Marie Fol analyzed the needs of dance artists when adapting their work for the screen. The study was inspired by the growing number of digital live art productions in Europe amidst the pandemic. For the researcher, dance films are a rich creative avenue that deserve to be explored further. “The democratisation of screendance has the potential to welcome greater imagination and creativity in this art form,” wrote Fol.
While the reason for this sudden boom of dance on screen was first linked to a need to feed connections between artists and their public, it has the potential to remain an important part of dance companies’ work. “By appropriating digital tools, by playing with or hacking them, artists create new codes, rituals, and rules,” noted Fol.
Even though dance films have always been part of the festival’s programming, Brisebois recognized that they never had so many films as they did this year. The programmer was particularly impressed by this year’s submissions. “It is an art form that is refining its mode of expression through movements, so it gets to say even more things. It’s fascinating,” she said, stressing the link of this type of creation with the viewer’s feelings.
While the creation of screendances might decrease now that venues are welcoming shows again, films like those presented at FIFA’s La Nuit de la danse testify to the inventiveness with which artists adapted to closures.
FIFA will present around 200 art films this year. They are available online through the festival’s website. Access to the programming is included in festival pass purchases. There are also in-person screenings in different Montreal theatres. This event is happening until March 27.
Visuals courtesy International Festival of Films on Art