This month marks the return of the Dance on Camera Festival, which has been taking place in New York annually for nearly half a century. As the world is still reeling in the throes of COVID-19, this festival too takes an unprecedented turn towards an all-virtual edition for the first time in its 48-year history. Undeterred by the raging pandemic, the festival’s curatorial triad—Nolini Barretto, Michael Trusnovec and Liz Wolff—assembled a series of bold impressions on the meaning of dance in the current socio-political climate. This year’s slate also makes a reaffirming statement about presenting dance and promoting choreographic visions in the virtual realm even during the times marked by bans on public gatherings and social distancing mandates. The festival’s offerings are wide-ranging: from the opening feature, Maguy Marin: Time to Act (2018) (directed by David Mambouch), highlighting the oeuvre of the tireless innovator and the grey eminence on the world’s stages, the French choreographer Maguy Marin, to a timely exploration of the rising of the oppressed Black communities through dance in Khadifa Wong’s Uprooted – The Journey of Jazz Dance (2019), as well as an extensive program of shorts featuring artists from Australia, Ireland, UK, Kazakhstan, Canada, Italy, and Bulgaria, among others. The festival also invites local creators to submit two-minute films, a selection of which will be presented on the final day in the festival’s #mydancefilm program. To speak about the challenges and opportunities of assembling this year’s Dance on Camera line-up, I caught up over Messenger with one of the festival’s curators, Liz Wolff, in early June.
Ivan Talijancic (Rail): This year, Dance on Camera will have its 48th edition. For the first time in the festival’s history, it will take place exclusively online. How did you navigate the unprecedented challenge of presenting the work virtually to a dispersed audience?
Liz Wolff: While dance events were canceled left and right, it seemed a must to maintain our dance and film experience. We have a dedicated audience in New York City for the festival at Film at Lincoln Center. With the loss of the venue, the beautiful Walter Reade Theater, we realized we could tap our online presence and perhaps put a smaller slate together and present it virtually. So we did.
The advancement of online film platforms has allowed us to put together something special, I think. As we are working though our stay-at-home lives, we hope the selection of film programs will transport the audience in some way.
Rail: The festival’s 2020 edition is a joint effort between you and two other curators. What was your team’s collaborative process in putting together this year’s line-up?
Wolff: Yes, Nolini Barretto, Michael Trusnovec, and I made up the team. We have diverse backgrounds in the dance and film worlds. Nolini studied Chhau, a classical Indian technique, before joining the Martha Graham School of contemporary dance; Michael was a principal of the Paul Taylor Dance Company for over 20 years; and I was a professional contemporary ballet dancer before my career in film distribution and exhibition. I think these perspectives lent themselves nicely to the conversations about the films we selected, and how we ended up shaping the programs. We all watched the submitted films and would meet regularly throughout the process from November to April.
Rail: To what extent were your curatorial choices influenced by the current state of affairs in the United States and beyond?
Wolff: The majority of films submitted have been made within the year. We receive submissions from around the globe and often these works express particular views on current and enduring issues. In many of the works, complex stories—on race [Bend (2019)], political activism [Maguy Marin: Time to Act], sexism [Kemp. My Best Dance Is Yet To Come (2019)], mortality [Dancing Darkness (2020)]—unfold through choreography and cinematography.
Rail: Were there specific thematic threads your team pursued as guideposts for this year’s selection?
Wolff: Not specifically. At times, a theme will appear, and we follow that to an extent. In past years, we have built a program around an archival film or celebrated artist. This year, without the New York venue, this was hard to accomplish. As we are reaching out to our audience virtually this year, we did keep in mind a global view in hopes to reach a little bit further.
Rail: What are some of the highlights in this year’s line-up? Any works in particular that you are excited to have discovered while programming this edition?
Wolff: As dance film is ever evolving, we hope that some of the new techniques and approaches in this year’s programs will allow audiences new ways to experience dance on camera. I think of the hand-painted animation by Peter Sparling (Cornered Detainee’s Lament ) and a narrative feature (Shift ) told entirely through dance.
A stand out for me is our opening film, Maguy Marin: Time to Act, it’s an intimate look at celebrated choreographer, Maguy Marin, whose work is daring, moving, and continues to defy convention.
Dance on Camera festival runs July 17-20, 2020. All screenings take place online at www.danceoncamerafestival.org