Dance, film, and a festival at first ever CinemaDance Festival

The first annual CinemaDance Festival is headed to Pathways in January.

Lisa Gross is the film curator behind the first annual CinemaDance festival at Pathways Arts. — Lexi Pline

Save the date for a weekend of emotion, humor, passion, and dance during the first annual CinemaDance Festival at Pathways Arts Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 11 and 12. CinemaDance Festival is a joint effort between Pathways Arts and dance film curator Lisa Gross, featuring screenings of classic and new dance films.

Dance film is not just film and it’s not just dance, but a hybrid art form all its own, using film techniques in tandem with dance choreography.

“It takes a dance choreographer and works with the director of cinematography to create its own unique work,” Gross said of CinemaDance. “It’s usually on locations, changing perspectives, changing time. It really becomes its own thing.”

Gross speaks with zeal about dance films and how the camera is interacting with the dancers. Unlike music videos, which tend to cut to different scenes or images, a dance film, Gross says, has a cohesiveness and a flow, all representing a whole.

“You’re trying to capture movement in and of itself,” Gross said. “It’s very pure, it’s very simple, but it’s also really difficult.”

Gross’ passion for CinemaDance can be traced back to her days as a choreographer, when people would say her dance pieces had a cinematic quality to them.

“I realized what I was trying to do was change perspective and time in a way that you can’t really do on the stage, but I was just trying to see what could happen,” she said. 

Over time, Gross shifted her focus from dance to education advocacy and her family. It wasn’t until her move to the Vineyard that she began to go back to her creative roots.

Last year, Gross approached Pathways co-director Keren Tonnesen and asked if she could show a few dance films. After a showing, Gross got great feedback, and began organizing a full film festival.

Curating the films was no easy task; Gross spent weeks researching films. This summer, she went to the Dance on Camera Festival in New York; she looked for films online, and spoke to production companies to get the rights to show their films.

Knowing that a CinemaDance Festival would be something brand-new for many people, Gross decided to incorporate some classics of dance film, spanning decades. The films cover the emotional spectrum from serious to funny, happy to sad, but all inspiring in a different way. 

The festival is broken up into different screenings. The first set will be short films, ranging in length from 60 seconds to 34 minutes. The shorts begin with a humorous and dramatic group of films that touch on themes of “perfection and pretense,” and looks at how society measures the individual. The shorts will end with a film set in a former nuclear reactor hall at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Saturday will close out with two documentaries. There’s a new documentary about Alexander Ekman, a Swedish choreographer, and his piece “Play Serious,” which follows his choreography, anxiety, and juggling of time limits at the Paris Opera. Ekman looks at the meaning of play, its inherit spontaneity, and how to translate that into a formalized work.
The second day of the festival looks at dance films focusing on social justice. The films travel from the streets of Camden, N.J., to the desert of the Middle East, looking at inequalities across racial and socioeconomic lines, and the oppression of women and their struggles to heal and be free. The most notable film is “From Here to There,” which follows a group of women who are survivors of sexual violence and marginalization, using dance movement therapy to empower themselves.

The festival will close with two documentaries that focus on two different periods in the creative process of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a world-renowned Belgian choreographer. The first was filmed in 1983, and follows De Keersmaeker’s “Rosas Danst Rosas,” a classic dance piece that was her international breakthrough. The second is “Mitten,” a 2019 film that follows the final weeks of rehearsal for De Keersmaeker’s newest piece, based on the six cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the intense collaboration between the choreographer, the dancers, and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. The film follows De Keersmaeker as she creates a dance piece by studying classical music.

For now, Gross is focusing on curating dance films, but says she might be behind the camera herself one day.

“I tried to curate films that showed a wide variety of what a dance film is, while also trying to make them accessible so people who don’t normally watch dance films can watch it and enjoy them,” Gross said. “I just wanted to make sure there was something for everyone.”

The CinemaDance Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 11 and 12. For more information, film listings, or to reserve a seat, visit Seats should be reserved ahead of time. Screenings are $5 admission. The festival will be followed by a reception.