ScreenDance Miami Festival Sheds Light on an Underground Movement

Screendance, sometimes called videodance, was born decades ago in the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. A lack of performance space led dancers to experiment with new ways of presenting their work. The term refers to “the short film form in dance [that is] diverse, global, emergent, alive, trans-media, and continually evolving,” as defined by Stanford University, which offers a course in screendance.

Basically, it means dancers incorporate filmmaking strategies (or work with established filmmakers) to tell a story visually.

Screendance will take over South Beach and Wynwood this weekend via a festival that will artfully blend the worlds of dance and film. Marissa Nick, director of ScreenDance Miami and of the local troupe Alma Dance Theater, says, “It’s not necessarily easy to invite an audience to come watch a performance at an abandoned construction site or obscure warehouse, so dancers started picking up the camera and filming rehearsals and performances — and then disbursing those images on the internet.”

Movement is edited and warped in surreal, gravity-defying ways. Dancers are placed in unconventional settings, and filmmakers control the vantage point. “It’s a language that allows the viewer to focus on something in the body and in a dance that can’t be experienced in a live setting,” Nick says. “It is really about taking choreography out of its context and composing specifically for the lens.”

Adds Mary Luft, executive director of Tigertail Productions: “That is what’s especially interesting to me about ScreenDance Miami: We’re not coming out of film school or academic backgrounds; we’re coming out of the heart of the artist.” The visual arts organization put together the four-day festival in hopes of exploring the relationship between film and dance.

One visual artist who was especially inspirational to Luft and her team was Curaçao-born, New York-based choreographer, dancer, and filmmaker Gabri Christa. “Christa wasn’t just making straight-ahead documentary film but rather introducing unusual elements of movement onto the screen,” Luft explains.

For a city that embraces independent film and dance, a screendance festival was a natural fit. “We saw there was a need for something like this,” Luft says, “so local dancers could present more visually charged techniques in choreographing dance on film.”

While ScreenDance Miami's inaugural year put the focus on local dancers and filmmakers, the festival garnered international attention and opened the submission call to artists from all over the world. A partnership with Netherlands-based Cinedans, the world's most progressive and widely recognized screen dance festival, helped ScreenDance Miami go global. "Submissions started pouring in from all over – it was interesting to see an international desire for presenting dance films in Miami, where the community is still growing," Luft says. While the selection of films at ScreenDance Miami's first and second year were curated by Nick, this year she recruited a panel of artists, including Christa, local choreographer Pioneer Winter, and local filmmaker William Keddell to select and curate hundreds of films submitted from all around the world.

The panel sought to select films that represent a true synthesis between dance and cinematography. "Whatever the concept, it has to be translated through movement," says Nick. Experimental in nature, ScreenDance Miami encourages multimedia artists to collaborate and cross disciplines to present powerfully emotive choreography magnified through a cinematic lens. "The goal is for dancers to seek partnerships that will enable them to present sensory-loaded pieces," says Luft.

Highly experimental and enriched by international participants and differing views, and offering screenings, panel discussions, and free workshops for dancers and filmmakers alike, ScreenDance Miami is carving a new niche for contemporary dancers in Miami who want to expose larger audiences to their creative work. "With screendance we can tour our work anywhere we want," says Nick. "It makes it permanent, and that's everything performance isn't. The work has a life of its own."

ScreenDance Miami
Thursday, January 21, through Saturday, January 23, at Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; and Mindy Solomon Gallery, 8397 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $12. Call 305-579-6675 or visit or

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Nicole Martinez
Contact: Nicole Martinez