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Film And Dance Meet At The Border

The Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival is hosted by San Ysidro’s FRONT Gallery

Video still from Agite y Sirva dance film festival's

Photo by Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival

Above: Video still from Agite y Sirva dance film festival's "But First," dir. Erin Brown Thomas, USA, 2019.

Mexican filmmaker Natalia Gómez's short dance film, "La Importancia de Saber Hacer Cosas Inútiles" contains very little dancing. Much of the movement, in fact, is incredibly everyday and mundane (as mundane as climbing into a refrigerator can be). Simple motions fill each of the grid-like series of frames: walking in a straight line, blowing a bubble, removing items from a fridge or doing a cartwheel.

"Dance film is not just dance and it's not just film," said Francisco Eme, gallery director at San Ysidro's FRONT Arte Cultura. Also known as screen choreography or screendance, it showcases dancers and their movements alongside cinematography.

The FRONT hosts the Agite y Sirva international dance film festival on Saturday, Jan 18. Created 11 years ago to showcase international short films in the screen choreography genre, this is the second year that the festival will come to the San Diego region.

While screen choreography may be a relatively new genre, the coexistence of dance and cinema dates back to the silent film era, when actors needed to maximize their performance without dialogue or singing. "Cold Light Day" by Dayna Hanson seems to summon this silent film aesthetic. A cinematic opening scene brings two characters to an unassuming dock, layering mysteries of who they are and why they're in this space. A patchwork of sounds builds tension: mechanical droning overlays the shuffles of clothing and stomps of boots on the wooden deck as the dancers leap.

"Sometimes it's not even dancing," Eme said of the performers in a work of dance film. "They're using movement. And movement could be used also in the camera — camera angles, camera movements, all these combinations of possibilities and languages, the film language and the body language, create this art form called dance film."

Photo by Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival

Video still from "La Importancia de Saber Hacer Cosas Inútiles," dir. Natalia Gómez, Mexico, 2019.

In "But First," directed by Erin Brown Thomas and choreographed by Mike Esperanza, the camera seems to take the lead, betraying our sense of what is up, down, right or wrong. Its motion mimics and responds to that of the dancing: urgent, choppy, contorting but still somehow graceful and playful.

According to Eme, the dance film industry is popular globally but just beginning to make waves in San Diego. For him, hosting the festival is a way to build community and appreciation for screen choreography, as well as starting the seeds for new creative works of dance and film in the region.

Ximena Monroy, Agite y Sirva's director and co-curator highlighted that the genre enables artists to challenge existing limits of dance, cinema, performance art and video. "What attracted me to screendance from the beginning is its wide compositional possibilities and its creative freedom," said Monroy, who is an art historian based in Mexico City. "Being able to expand the rules of the game for each work allows you to play with experimental narratives and with other conceptions about the body."

The festival entails a single viewing of 18 short films from 10 different countries, divided into two series. The screening will include an intermission. The selections in the first series, "Conversations at Stake," explore listening, limits and expectations. The second series, "Sound Images," will focus on the form, movement and sonic elements.

"Since this is the border with the greatest circulation in the world and therefore with an effervescent cultural and artistic exchange, I think its communities offer an obligatory spot for screendance as a hybrid and novel art form," added Monroy.

The FRONT gallery is housed in San Ysidro's Casa Familiar, a 50-year-old community nonprofit providing social services and cultural opportunities to San Ysidro and south San Diego.

"The goal of this gallery is to boost the arts and culture in the region, not just in San Ysidro and San Diego," said Eme, who also wants to reach young people in the region and provide hyper-local cultural and creative outlets for them in San Ysidro. "There are very few spaces for them, and San Ysidro has a median age of 30 years old. It's young," he said.

The Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival will be held at The FRONT Arte Cultura in San Ysidro on Saturday, Jan 18 at 6 p.m. Free.

Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival 2019-2020 Trailer

The Agite y Sirva Dance Film Festival will be held at The FRONT Arte Cultura on Saturday, Jan 18.

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opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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