9 Screendance Artists You Should Know About
The field of screendance is chock-full of artists redefining what it means to make dance, and to create films. Now that the pandemic has put a spotlight on the genre, it’s time to highlight some of the artists.
The following nine screendance makers, collectives and production companies represent a variety of aesthetic approaches to the form, as well as a diversity of production values and styles. Their recent works have been traveling the world through film festivals, galleries and other such spaces. If you’re looking for a sense of the pulse of the screendance scene, these makers and their films provide a glimpse into the cinematic possibilities for the field.
Splitting her time between her native Iran and Ireland, Tanin Torabi places moving bodies in pedestrian spaces as a way of rewriting spoken and unspoken rules of engagement. In her award-winning 2017 film The Dérive, Torabi moves through a busy market in Tehran, the camera capturing onlookers’ reactions. Dancing is prohibited in Iran, if construed as offensive or indecent. Yet Torabi’s newest film, In Plain Sight, finds the artist and fellow performers Masoumeh Jalalieh and Tina Beyk Abbasi in a public setting once more, subtly playing off of each other in a slow progression of interactions. It was described as “another ten-minute diamond” after screening at the Birmingham International Dance Festival.
New York City–based director and screenwriter Bat-Sheva Guez is best known for her character-driven dance films that offer audiences rich storylines. The 2019 film In This Life explores grief in five acts. Created in collaboration with former New York City Ballet principal dancer Robbie Fairchild, each section is choreographed by a different choreographer: James Alsop, Warren Craft, Andrea Miller, Christopher Wheeldon and then Fairchild himself. The film won Best Experimental Film at the Brooklyn Film Festival and Best Musical Film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in 2019.
Holly and Duncan Wilder/Wilder Project
Sibling duo Holly (choreography) and Duncan (cinematography) Wilder have created 17 films together to date. Their work has been screened at over 40 film festivals, across five continents. Their award-winning film The Field (2018) explores the impact of negative voices in our heads, and what we find within ourselves when they’re let go. Wilder Project’s most recent work, Angelina, is “a queer love story that slips into your heart and lingers for a while after, reminding you so sweetly of a love that’s slipped away.” So far, it has been accepted to the 2021 Portland Dance Film Festival, with more screenings sure to come.
Kayla Farrish/Decent Structures Arts
New York City–based artist Kayla Farrish began Decent Structures Arts with the goal of combining film, photography and dance. Much of the work that comes out of the company centers the “sociopolitical structures placed on black and brown bodies in America, expectations on gender, [and] the visibility of the underrepresented.” Since its inception in 2017, Farrish and her collaborators have created nearly 20 films, which have been presented across the U.S. Farrish’s most recent project, Martyr’s Fiction, won a 2021 Dance Films Association Production Grant. Through the lens of the experiences of Black Americans and women, the piece explores the question “Who can afford to dream?”
Juel D. Lane
Atlanta-based choreographer Juel D. Lane has been a fixture in the New York City and Atlanta dance scenes for almost two decades. He is the recipient of an Alumni Artpreneur Award from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and a Celebration of Dance: Choreographer of the Year Award for his work about how to be in love, Touch & Agree. The piece was set on the dancers of Ailey II in 2017. His film of the same name premiered at the BronzeLens Film Festival in 2020. Although the piece for Ailey II was set as a large ensemble piece, the film focuses on the duet section between two men, helping to fill a void of queer love stories between Black men in media. Before the pandemic, Lane’s The Maestro toured the film-festival circuit—it’s a solo piece honoring the famous African-American painter Ernie Barnes.
Omari “Motion” Carter, Anna Clifford and James Williams/The Motion Dance Collective
Based in London, The Motion Dance Collective was founded by hip-hop dancer and choreographer Omari “Motion” Carter in 2011. Screendance works made by the group have garnered a handful of awards, including a 2017 UK Screendance Award at the Screen.Dance Festival in Perth, Scotland. In addition to its own projects, The Motion Dance Collective takes on commercial clients, which have included Weetabix and Breakin’ Convention. A production company with a truly international scope, its members have collaborated with artists across the world. 2020’s Fracture/d Frame/s explores women’s body image and self-empowerment.
Katherine Helen Fisher and Shimmy Boyle/Safety Third Productions
Los Angeles– and New York City–based Safety Third Productions is the brainchild of dancer and director Katherine Helen Fisher. She established the company in 2013 with cinematographer and writer Shimmy Boyle, creating work in the realms of screendance, music videos and branded content for companies such as Microsoft and Chobani. One of their goals is to support the work of women artists by “championing fair wages and working conditions within the fields of dance and film.” Their 2016 film CEILING, a meditation on striving in collaboration with artists Govind Rae and Larkin Donley, won Best Screendance Short Under 5 Minutes at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival in 2017. The critically acclaimed 2018 film Revel in Your Body, starring dancer/choreographers Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson of Kinetic Light, traveled extensively before and during the pandemic.
The work of New York City–based choreographer and director Sarah Friedland exists at the “intersection of moving images and moving bodies.” Her films often feature pedestrian movement performed by dancers and nondancers alike in ways that highlight the social, cultural and political significance of the movement. Creating for both traditional screening venues and for installation, Friedland’s three-channel video work CROWDS (2019) explores group dynamics through a series of choreographed crowd scenarios that develop, shift and morph into new ideas as the piece goes on. Drills (2020) is a dance film and documentary that interrogates societal anxieties about the future. From active-shooter drills to corporate meditation, the piece asks “What are we preparing for?”
Laura Rodriguez/LROD y Artistas
/LROD is an interdisciplinary Chicanx artist from El Paso and the Tex-Mex borderlands whose work, according to their website, endeavors to “cross the borders we carry…sharing radical tenderness with each moving body.” LROD currently lectures at Harvard University and is a 2021 National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures Leadership Fellow. Their films often explore sci-fi themes and Chicanafuturism through surrealist aesthetics. The 2019 short film Ventilador aims to “discover the realms of the word alien in relation to the current political tensions, while also making visible a Chicana perspective of sci-filmmaking.” Borderland Vol. 2: Bilateral explores the artists’ emotional and embodied relationship to borderlands through a presentation of their alter egos.