Dance film movement

Circuit Arts launches M.V. Dance Film Festival at the Grange Hall.

Abby Bender and Jesse Jason, and their shadow, dance. —Maria Thibodeau

Circuit Arts breaks new ground. This Friday and Saturday, on stage and screen, the arts group will launch the Martha’s Vineyard Dance Film Festival at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. The festivities will include live dance performances as part of an evening of shorts, and two feature-length documentaries.
Speaking about how the dance film festival emerged, Circuit Arts executive director Brian Ditchfield said that because the short dance films program was so incredibly popular during the 2022 and 2023 Martha’s Vineyard Film Festivals, “we started dreaming up what more it could be.”
Lisa Gross, programmer for the festival, comes with years of dance film curating experience: “This has always been my passion. I was a dancer, and got interested in film because I wanted to see my dances from different perspectives and angles. The merging of camera and choreography allows for that experience. It was a natural progression for me.”
Gross believes true dance films are about integrating the camera and the choreography so that they become seamless. Her criteria are that the film be well-made, well-thought-out, and complete, regardless of length. “It has to make sense. It can’t be chopped up,” she says. “There has to be a continuity throughout. There has to be good choreography and good dancing. But I look for good filmmaking, and a variety that will put a good lineup together.”
The weekend kicks off on Friday, May 31, at 7:30 pm, with the return of the fun, profoundly moving, lively crowd pleaser “Call Me Dancer.” The feature-length film follows Mumbai street performer Manish Chauhan as he pursues his dream to become a professional dancer against all odds and despite familial expectations. Chauhan will also be returning for a post-screening discussion.
“I saw it as a work in progress, and then again when it was done,” Gross shares. “I was crying and laughing. It was so gorgeous. This is a real crossover film; you don’t want to miss it.”
The first film on Saturday, June 1, at 5 pm is “Breaking Form,” which follows the career of choreographer Jane Comfort, a seminal figure and maverick in New York City’s downtown dance scene who has been celebrated worldwide for her boldly satirical, irreverent, and issue-oriented works since the late 1970s. Comfort and director Alexandra Nikolchev will be on hand for a discussion after the screening.
“Her originality is remarkable. When I saw this film, I thought every young choreographer should be watching it,” Gross says. “David White, the former executive director of the Yard, who presented Jane’s work often, gave me a perfect way to describe her: ‘She’s an original thinker choreographer, not to mention having one of the bravest theatrical imaginations I can recall.’ And that’s right on the money.”
The evening continues with “Dance Shorts from Around the World” at 7:30 pm. This program features seven international short films that showcase the collaboration between filmmakers and choreographers. The audience will be treated to a mesmerizing exploration of creativity and expression as dance and film converge in dynamic and diverse narratives. As a “movement emcee,” Island dancer and guest choreographer Abby Bender and friends will perform short interludes between the films.
Gross selected the lineup by keeping her fingers on the pulse of what dance on film is available: “Sometimes dance film can come across as esoteric, but I’ve tried to make it accessible to people. You don’t have to be a dancer to appreciate what you are looking at. Part of that comes across in the shorts program, because of the live dance woven between each film that relates to them. Instead of just a screening, the evening is a whole experience. You come to enjoy the films and live movement, so it becomes something else.”
Bender explains her process of preparing to choreograph for the segue between films: “It’s sort of, like, puzzling. How do I want to bridge these films, and create something that is not 100 percent derivative, but where can I have some fun and play? Once we have the order, it’s about figuring out which things I want to pull. It’s not a full-length dance piece between each film. Sometimes they are little teasers. Sometimes they are foreshadowing; sometimes they’re echoes. And they might not necessarily be in order.” There might be choreography later in the evening that relates to something you saw four films before.
Ditchfield shares about the festival as a whole, “What I really appreciate about what Lisa has done is that they are all more than movies. When you see these two documentaries, you get to meet the film subjects and talk to the director, and the shorts have this amazing live performance component. We often talk at Circuit Arts about what makes something more than you can stream at home from the comfort of your couch, and Lisa has done that to the nth degree with the program.”

Pay-what-you-can tickets and information about the festival are available online at