Each year, I await the coming of the Austin Dance Festival with great anticipation. The festival, hosted by the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, showcases a wide variety of local, regional, and national modern and contemporary dance and choreography. It has been thrilling to see the festival evolve over the years with the addition to its pop-up, site-specific community dances, as well as its youth dance showcase. This year’s innovation was the Dance on Film program.
Co-directed by Lisa Anne Kobdish and Ilana Wolanow, the Dance on Film portion of the festival featured variety in production, perspective, and technique, ranging from Ashley Gold’s music video-esque “Royalt,” to Charlotte Griffin’s synesthetic blurring of dance, music, form, and animation in “Raven Study.” Furthermore, the audience was invited “talk back” to the choreographers by jotting down their impressions and reactions following each short piece. Regardless of this exercise’s utility to the choreographers and filmmakers, it certainly encouraged audience engagement and active participation.
Anabella Lenzu’s “No more beautiful dances” centered on her changing body, and on her identity as a dancer during pregnancy and childbirth. The film employed quick cuts of close-ups on her belly and thighs, lip smacks and oral sounds, bilingualism, and narrative elements to portray maternity’s bodily and emotional transformations that are, at times, disgusting, but ultimately redemptive. Both Amy Elizabeth’s “Strong Moves Slow” and “Raven Study” used ideas of symmetry and reflection as the basis for developing their short films. Griffin’s work used circularity and resonances between the aural and the visual in a formal manner, resulting in the coalescence of drummer and dancer into something new. Elizabeth’s piece employed similar movement vocabularies in scenes of a romantic relationship alternately idyllic and emotionally fraught, which resulted in fracture and the need for new beginning. Eyrn White’s “Dreamspace III: Wooden Room” transported us to the intimacy of her bedroom as we watched her roll about her apartment and her day in a humorously soporific state, while “I Think I Know Where I Stand” invited us into the lives of young dancers navigating their insecurities and through girlhood by finding psychophysical strength in movement. Other pieces were overtly political in nature. In Ana Baer’s “THE WALL,” choreographer Michelle Nance’s body became a dancing mobile section (in white platform shoes!) of the NYC subway on which New Yorkers could post their love notes to American following Trump’s election. Natalia Roberts’s “The Solo Series | Part 1: Nuremberg” reminded us of the work remaining to create a just society while showing us a way forward. Through acrobatic movement and powerful oration, she declared the future of justice in the United States feminine and non-white.
The Dance on Film program featured many rich nuggets of dance filmmaking in an hour-long show. The content was varied and diverse, and the format lends itself to collaboration with dancers, choreographers, and filmmakers outside Texas as well as those at home. I certainly hope that the festival continues to receive support for this program, and I wait, in anticipation, to see how it develops.