Film festival highlights multi-media dance artists committed to social justice issues

CHICAGO — Five days, 10 events, 24 guest artists. Chicago’s In/Motion International Dance Film Festival brings a distinct group of artists together March 21-25 for dance on film, and social justice and community engagement.

Entering its fourth year, the In/Motion International Dance Film Festival fosters the curation and creation of multimedia dance performance that confronts issues of social justice and elevates underrepresented artists. The programming promotes interdisciplinary exploration and collaboration among artists and other community members.

Programming includes an international juried screening of dance films, movement workshops, showings for local and emerging dance film artists, and a panel about the role of women artists, historically and now.

“In terms of the plurality of perspectives represented in our program, we try to get a general mix of people and visions and perspectives, whether that’s racial, or gender, or socioeconomic diversity, or ability or disability,” In/Motion artistic director Amy Wilkinson said.

This year brings headlining guest artist Bobbi Jene Smith to Loyola University Chicago’s northside campus, along with local and international filmmakers and artists. Smith, a professional dancer known for her 10-year career with Batsheva Dance Company in Israel, became involved with In/Motion during negotiations for the festival to screen Bobbi Jene, Smith’s 2017 film documenting her journey as an independent artist post-Batsheva.

Smith’s experience with physically integrated dance, an integral component of previous In/Motion programming, made her an ideal guest artist, according to festival director and curator Sarah Prinz. Physically integrated dance increases accessibility to dance for people with and without disabilities. Smith’s previous work in the field includes choreographing for AXIS, a physically-integrated contemporary dance company. She also teaches Gaga/people, a form of the Gaga technique (which is integral to the movement aesthetic of Batsheva Dance Company) open to all people regardless of their movement abilities or background in dance.

“She just seems like a very sensitive and aware person who’s interested … in facilitating experiences to help people grow and challenge them in form and thought in a very sensitive and mindful way,” said Prinz about Smith. “So that’s why she really stood out to us as someone we wanted to work with.”

Bobbi Jene screens Saturday, March 24 at Loyola’s Damen Cinema. Smith will teach a Gaga class and a physically integrated dance class open to all community members, including Loyola dance majors. She will also speak on a panel titled Female Figures: Then and Now.

Prinz and Wilkinson consider the Female Figures panel and the International Dance Film Juried Screening to be the must-attend events for any festival goer. The juried screening features dance film shorts by seven artists from around the globe. These artists were picked from nearly 300 who submitted films to In/Motion, and their work will be adjudicated by Chicago arts curators, creators and writers.

What separates this screening from others, according to both Wilkinson and Prinz, is its emphasis on a variety of social justice issues and the use of movement to illustrate their significance. “We’re tackling some of these similar concepts of mass incarceration, gun violence and dancers with disabilities,” said Prinz. “What’s different about our approach is that it’s simply told through the body. So it’s expressed in a way that’s far deeper and far more visceral than someone just speaking about it.”

A screening of Cutcher’s “Thinking On Their Feet: Women of the Tap” documentary kicks off In/Motion on Wednesday, March 21. Photo courtesy of In/Motion [Sarah Fluegel]
Female Figures: Then and Now grew out of an initiative to strengthen the relationship between In/Motion and the Chicago arts community, according to Prinz. The event provides visibility for women artists who Prinz believes are often “behind-the-scenes trail blazers.”

Jenai Cutcher, executive director of the Chicago Dance History Project, will moderate the panel. Cutcher is also the director of the documentary film Thinking On Their Feet: Women of the Tap Renaissance, which is being screened at the In/Motion Festival. “Similar to directing Thinking On Their Feet, my role as moderator of the Female Figures panel is to create space for artists to discuss their work and perspectives on the field in their own words,” said Cutcher over email. “In/Motion is a wonderful opportunity for folks here in Chicago to learn more about these artists and their histories.”

The panel features guest Deana Haggag, arts curator and CEO of United States Artists.   

“If she’s not your role model, I don’t know who is,” Prinz said. “It’s incredible to have a platform where we can help facilitate voices like hers.”

Other panelists include burlesque and performance artist Po’Chop/Jenn Freeman and choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams, who is also leading the Women’s Narratives workshop on Sunday.

“We’ve got this incredible mix of working, diverse artists who have their hands and who have their eyes on so many different facets of the professional dance landscape,” Wilkinson said. “To have that particular group in a room at one time is just going to be super dynamic.”

With the variety of artists, media and discussions involved in this year’s festival, Prinz encouraged everyone to check out In/Motion. “It’s a really unique opportunity to tune in about some of the larger players and female forces working as social justice advocates right now,” Prinz said. “It’s a very accessible festival, and we hope that not just the dance and film communities come out–but that everyone feels welcome.”

The In/Motion International Dance Film Festival runs March 21-25 in various locations in and around both campuses of Loyola University Chicago. Festival passes are available for $30; single tickets for events are $10 with several free offerings throughout the festival. Visit the In/Motion website to learn more and purchase tickets.

Jordan Kunkel is a senior dance and journalism double major at Loyola University Chicago, graduating in May. As a working professional, she combines her passions for dance, writing and multimedia to advocate for and promote the arts. Jordan is currently a PR & Communications Intern at Chicago Dancemakers Forum.

*Disclosure: The editor of Art Intercepts is a part-time faculty member at Loyola University Chicago. She served on the In/Motion grand jury panel and is a moderator for the local artists works-in-progress showing.

Author: Guest Contributors

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