Monthly Archives: January 2013

thoughts about teaching screendance

In December I finished teaching a new module/course in screendance at Roehampton Dance. It’s for final (3rd) year students and is in the ‘choreography’ bracket of the undergraduate programme. You can see the module blog at I’d like to discuss three things in relation to the module: technology, problem-based learning, and their interests.

The temptation in teaching screendance (or perhaps any choreography module that has a reasonably tight relationship to video and/or digital technology) is to lean heavily on skill development for the students. It occurs to me, however, that there are only five skills students need to begin to work with and develop ideas:

  • power a camera on and off (although not necessary if they use their phones) and recharge battery
  • record/pause
  • transfer/ingest media from camera to computer with whatever software is available (we used FCPX)
  • cutting
  • export to Vimeo and/or YouTube

Of course we did work with other skills – sound, tripods, handheld cameras etc – but I was inspired by how quickly the students were up and running with cutting short videos and although they certainly ran into software and hardware troubles, mostly they found a way to make it work.

This is how I’d like to imagine technology working – that it simply dissolves into the background so that aspiring screendance makers can deal with their materials and ideas, and not with technological complexity (which they can approach later in their working lives).

Problem-based learning
In the module, the students and I focused on looking at a lot of films (and searching for films they hadn’t seen, and then watching them in ways that they might not be used to), and using problem-based tasks for them to develop short studies. One particularly strong task was led by a guest lecturer – Gemma Donohue – who had them used disposable film-based cameras to shoot a series of stills that they built into films in FCPX. For some students, they had never used a camera with which you couldn’t immediately see the ‘results’ of your photograph. Gemma worked with them on a range of approaches to light and framing, and backed up the mini-project with a feast of visually-oriented books on photography and film.

Student interests
I took a deliberately open approach to the kinds of films the students might make. In other words, although we spent time discussing what screendance might be (or has been historically), they were encouraged to think of choreography as being a very broad range of approaches to thinking about – and working with – things like framing, editing, subject matter, camera movement, physical action and sound. The students ended up making very few conventional screendance films (by this I mean making films that are ‘about’ (or involve) people dancing), and they seemed to be happy to defend their work as being screendance in many different forms.

The ambition and commitment of the students to follow their interests was exciting but part of me worries how the term ‘screendance’ might start to lose value if any or all films can be viewed (or defended!) as screendance. What are the alternatives? To keep teaching screendance within a very harrow definition of the kinds of films that should be made? Or to risk undermining a discipline that is still finding its feet within dance, visual art and cinematic traditions?

Simon Ellis


Screendance Conference: Call for Presentations

The International Video Dance Festival of Burgundy (France) is pleased to announce that it is now accepting presentation proposals for its first screendance conference to be held on April 5, 2013 at L’ARC National Theatre of Burgundy. The conference will be an international place of meeting where artists, scholars, curators and other professionals interested in the practice of screendance can present their research, as well as network and form working artists/research groups. The conference will occur during the festival’s main week of events. 

On Saturday, April 6, attendees will have the option to remain a second day in order to form working/research groups and hold additional informal discussions in the conference space.

The conference theatre and festival events, as well as hotels and restaurants are all located within short walking distance in the city center of Le Creusot, Burgundy. Le Creusot is only one hour’s travel time from Paris via TGV train and 40 minutes from Lyon (also via TGV train).

The festival conference welcomes presentation proposals that address any aspect of screendance research, practice and/or programming. From broad themes to specialized topics, our first conference is an open-themed event to promote the international questions that scholars, artists, and programmers are currently exploring. Presentation will be 20 minutes each. Conference languages are English and French. A bilingual program will be available during the conference.

Presentation proposals: please send a 250-500 word abstract and a brief bio or C.V. no later than February 20, 2013 to


Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869)

In a new series of BBC Radio4 entitled The Value of Culture Melvyn Bragg explores the idea and evolution of culture.

The programmes reflect on Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869), described as one of the most celebrated works of social criticism ever written. It forms the basis for a new discussion of what we understand as culture, and how we determine its value. It returns to the question wheather the arts ought to be valued for their own sake, for their lack of use or for whatever else they might do in the world.

For a commentary by Claudia Kappenberg read her blog post.

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