Let’s Dance International Frontiers returns as part of Black History Month

David Mead talks to Pawlet Brookes, artistic director and CEO of the festival’s curators Serendipity, about what’s coming up

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced this year’s Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF), online as Alternative LDIF20, Pawlet Brookes said that they would look to do something in the autumn. Making good on that and tying in with Black History Month, LDIF is back for an extra week of live and online events from October 24-31 that will continue the festival’s profile and preview next year’s event.

Pawlet BrookesPhoto Stuart Hollis
Pawlet Brookes
Photo Stuart Hollis

With guidance and regulations around managing spaces in constant flux, planning hasn’t been easy. Original plans have had to be revamped with some hoped for live work shifted online but Brookes feels it is important to do something. “We do need to give people hope and look to the future. We need to stress this is not a forever situation.”

This autumn’s LDIF will be a marriage between the online and the physical. One piece of work will be live, choreographer Jean Abreu presenting an extract of his full-length Solo for Two in the outdoor courtyard in the centre of the Phoenix Arts Centre.

Created in collaboration with noted Belgian dance dramaturg Guy Cools, the work explores themes of identity creation through migration and never-ending cycles of loss, letting go and new beginnings. The notion of ‘origin’ thus becomes not a fixed point in time, or even a fixed place, but a series of points of departures.

“We could have done it in Orton Square, that great big open space by the Curve, but we were mindful of the need to control numbers,” explains Brookes. At the Phoenix, it will be performed in the round, the audience capped at thirty and with socially distanced viewing points. A lunchtime start also means that some technical things such lights do not have to be dealt with. “We’ve also programmed it in two ways because the government keeps shifting and we don’t want to get to the day and suddenly it can’t happen. So, just in case we’re not allowed to do it live, we’ve done an online version.”

Let’s Dance International Frontiers: LDIF21 Preview Trailer

Going digital are two Signatures programmes, LDIF’s platform for so far undiscovered talent, and masterclasses by Thomas Prestø and Léna Blou. Although people are back in studios, that move to online was unavoidable given issues around travel and potential restrictions, says Brookes.

COVID-19 has seen schools, studios and theatres closed, and practice restricted even where it has resumed. Amid this, use of digital media by artists has flourished with techniques moving on apace. But as live performance starts to emerge once more, where is dance now? What is its post-COVID future? What is the impact of the pandemic on dance training, now and looking ahead? What is and will be its impact on who has access to dance?

Léna BlouPhoto courtesy LDIF/Léna Blou
Léna Blou
Photo courtesy LDIF/Léna Blou

Those big questions are just some that will be addressed in Where is Dance Now? A debate bringing together British and international voices including Jonzi D, Sharon Watson, Javier Torres and Nora Chipaumire, who will also be considering how the pandemic has affected them, their creative process and their dance.

Continuing the theme of the changing face of dance, Serendipity and LDIF are also launching a new publication: My Voice, My Practice, Black Dance. Among the many voices exploring that and artistic practice are Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director of Ballet Hispanico; Vicki Igbokwe, founder of Uchenna Dance; Jonzi D; and Léna Blou and Annabel Guérédrat from Guadaloupe.

The launch of the publication will be celebrated with two dance films exploring identity. Brothers and Sons by Project 44 in association with Queensborough Community College and CUNY Dance Initiative presents a reflection on Black masculinity in the context of the events of 2020, while Our Bodies Back stages the work of American poet and performance artist Jessica Care Moore in a new dance film from Jonzi D.

My Voice, My Practice, Black Dance
My Voice, My Practice, Black Dance

Finally, and following on from 30 Seconds of Freedom, the collective dance film that closed the Alternative LDIF20, the October event will round off with 30 Seconds to Treasure, inspired by conversations with artists collective Kinetic Light, and in which black dancers from around the world take a moment to pause and respond to this year’s many provocations.

Although not part of LDIF, Brookes also highlights Black Manifesto, the 10 Commandments: Black Women Speak Out, a 10-part podcast series hosted by herself and Nora Chipaumire as part of Black History Month Leicester, the theme for which this year is Black British Theatre.

In what she describes as a “collective conversation,” ten artists, the majority choreographers, including Annabel Guérédrat from Martinique, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar from Urban Bush Women and Yinka Esi Graves, will each address one commandment from Chaipaumire’s Black Manifesto. In doing so, they will offer their interpretations and insights as they address how artists can work to reshape a new world in which Black women are seen and heard, and in which their creativity is inspired.

While she believes the online is here to stay, Brookes desperately wants to return to live work as much as the rest of us. She does acknowledge that the crisis and that desire to go back to the physical has made us look at what artists and promotors are doing, and where and how it is being done, a bit more deeply.

“Dance has always been good at using unusual spaces. We haven’t just stuck to a proscenium arch theatre and big venues. I think doing small-scale and focusing on laboratory style work is really important too. It means we can look at different spaces, outdoor spaces, at the built environment, and how we can use it. I think we’ve never really talked about in the way we are now. That’s good,” she says.

“And top of everything we have Brexit. All what we thought were our borders and boundaries are crumbling down. We don’t know where we are going. Our relationship with the Commonwealth too. As a nation, it’s really difficult at the moment. It feels like we have truly become an island. In terms of creativity, of course we can use the internet, but it’s not the same as having that personal relationship with individuals overseas; that close cultural exchange. I think international touring will be difficult for a spell, but we are still pushing ahead.”

Brookes remains positive, however. She promises there will be an LDIF21, albeit one that will focus largely on solos and duets. Although she is still waiting on conversations with the Curve, due to reopen in November, she says it will open on April 29, International Dance Day, as always.

But whereas we thought ’21 would be the big year, I think it will be ’22 before we can go ahead with the showcasing we want to do. I think ’21 is about keeping everything going, looking after your audiences and keep feeding them quality work before we come back with the bang we would all like in ’22.”

Full details of programmes for October 2020’s LDIF, Black History Month Leicester and Black Manifesto, are all on Serendipity’s website.

Events will all be on YouTube or Zoom. Apart from the Masterclasses, all are free.