David Mead talks to Pawlet Brookes, founder, CEO and artistic director of Serendipity, and director of Let’s Dance International Frontiers
When restrictions on public gatherings came in and theatres started closed their doors, it looked like this year’s Let’s Dance International Frontiers festival in Leicester would be one of the many casualties. Well, it is, and it isn’t. Within a week of calling off the planned in-person festival, Serendipity’s Pawlet Brookes was able to announce a free, digital, Alternative LDIF.
“We were quite quick off the mark,” she agrees. “In that Monday to Friday I spoke to every single artist who was in the programme. I will have a ridiculous phone bill! But with over 70% of our programme international, I had been watching what was happening in terms of international movement, UK borders and such like. I already had options in my mind already which could be discussed.”
The nature of LDIF, that it has always included a conference, dialogues, films and exhibitions alongside live performance, has eased reforming the 2020 edition. All those additional aspects are vital, Brookes considers. “Having opportunities to discuss is important because that informs the future and practice. LDIF has never been only about coming to the theatre to enjoy. We’ve always asked people to engage in different ways.”
Alternative LDIF will open just as the regular festival always does, on April 29, International Dance Day. At the alternative launch evening, Serendipity will be sharing a documentary short to sit alongside a new book, LDIF: 10 Years in the Making, ” a really nice coffee-table book with fifty or sixty superb images,” which captures the festival’s first decade and the impact it has made on the international dance scene.
That first evening will also see the opening of Black Men in Dance: Masculinity in Motion, an on-line exhibition that runs to May 16 of interviews, photographs and videos in which black men in dance consider how masculinity is portrayed and perceived in various genres.
The bulk of the rest of the Alternative LDIF programme is taken up with film screenings and is Dance Dialogues, a series of presentations by artists. Brookes explains, “It was really a question of how to reframe everything. We’ve stuck to the original timeline and to what we know best. We haven’t moved away from that. But we will showcase people a little bit more, show what happens behind the scenes in terms of what people talk about, what they think about as artists. We’ve also done everything as time limited, so you enter into an event, rather than it just being ‘out there’.”
Dance Dialogues was something Brookes had been toying with in any case. “This just catapulted it forwards.” Between ten and fourteen minutes long, each will show snippets of work and feature the dancers and choreographers talking about that work and their practice. “We haven’t given everything away but enough for people an insight.” While some of the Dance Dialogues are really current, every single year of LDIF has been carefully archived, so it was easy to tap into that and pull out a curated programme, she adds.
Among the presentations, Nora Chipaumire’s features excerpts from her talk at the Identity and Choreographic Practice Conference at LDIF17, and reflections on her challenging and embracing stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body, art and aesthetics. Brookes says, “Each dialogue is different because each artist is different, each point they are making is different. Chester Morrison’s discussion the rise and fall of black dance companies in the UK is more like a lecture. But some are very conversational. Each has its own personality.” Rounding off the series, Joan Myers Brown, founder of PHILADANCO! and The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts will provide an insight into the foundations of the company and the struggle for visibility in the world of ballet faced by Black dancers.
Moving to film, Annabel Guérédrat and Henri Tauliaut from Artincidence will present their short documentary Annabel the Rebel, exploring their meeting of live art and movement in Martinique and the issues they are interrogating as a country as they reclaim their art for themselves. That will be followed by Thoughts from FIAP, a short film created by Brookes following her trip to the International Festival of Performance Art in Martinique in 2019, an event curated by Guérédrat and Tauliaut. “It gives an insight into a different world. It’s something for people to dip their toes into and have a look. When you start looking at influences on choreographers away from the Caribbean, you start to see that the region has actually had quite an influence on dance elsewhere.”
Flamenco dancer Yinka Esi Graves meanwhile will put out four short films over four evenings that explore specific sites in Spain once connected to their Afro-Andalusian population, and in Ghana. These link to the questions of visibility and presence that are central to her work-in-progress, The Disappearing Act. Responses to the films will feed into the final work which will appear at LDIF in 2021.
Alternative LDIF will conclude with Thirty Seconds of Freedom. The idea came out of a conversation. Brookes says, “We are all locked in. We are all encased. What does it feel like? Imagine if you just had thirty seconds where you could just fly, where you could be free. Think about that from a dancer’s perspective.” A call-out for contributions has been made, which will then be pulled together into a short film.
Following on from the Alternative LDIF, Brookes explains that the plan is to have an LDIF Finale in the last week in October, which will comprise the conference, Signatures and the workshop programme. The Philadelphia-based company PHILADANCO!, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, will now come in 2021 alongside all the other artists that had already confirmed. There are still question marks over the Curve’s availability but, while Brookes says it could quite easily be done elsewhere, “I would prefer to be working at the Curve and getting people back into theatres. And if theatres are still not open, we’ll just continue to build the 2021 programme with all our artists and just have a bumper edition next year.”
Looking ahead, she is very conscious that the arts needs to think about what happens when we come through the present crisis. People are going to come out gingerly. They are going to need enticing back to theatres. It’s not all suddenly going to go back to as it was; not quite back to square one, perhaps, but there will be huge things to be done around audience development.
Coming back to Alternative LDIF, Brookes says, “What we are showing is that while we may be erecting barriers and closing down borders in terms of people travelling, we are still able to cross those borders. The situation brings restrictions but it does raise possibilities too. You are never going to replace the physical, the live. People will still want to see that, to enjoy that. At some point we will get back there but in the interim we are still able to communicate, share and showcase work. The dance community and everyone involved are so behind it, so engaged with it.”
Alternative LDIF runs from April 29 to May 16, 2020. Click here for full details.