While many stages remained empty during the pandemic, dancers sought out other locales to kick, plié, turn, jump, glide and spin. Rooftops, stairways of historic dwellings and even creeks served as the platforms to test out innovative choreography.
In 2020, with performances halted, movement still flourished.
Boulder Ballet’s first annual film festival hits the web Thursday and features pieces from artists across the nation.
In light of the recent violence that rocked Boulder, the company is planning on allocating a portion of ticket sales to those who need it most.
“Boulder Ballet is deeply saddened by the acts of violence that have torn through this community,” said Claudia Anata Hubiak, executive director of Boulder Ballet and film festival founder. “Our hearts go out to the victims’ families and those affected by this tragedy. The arts have the power to connect us, support our grieving and bring us together to witness the spark of life that is creativity. As we are all mourning the losses of these incredible human lives, Boulder Ballet would like to offer support by donating 10% of all proceeds from the film festival to the families that have lost loved ones through the Boulder Community Foundation Crisis Fund.”
Additional links to donate will be available through the viewing platform for those who would like to support further.
Tickets are $20.
“We are so excited to celebrate artists from all disciplines and backgrounds,” Hubiak said. “This has been a real point of emphasis as we look at our model and the responsibilities that go with being an arts organization and presenter in the field today. These films span themes from the nation’s conversations on race, mental health, the impact of dance on incarcerated women and the simple joy dance brings.”
Boulder Ballet enlisted a group of artists to judge the 58 submissions received. Twenty-two films were chosen for a runtime of 95 minutes. The program will be available to stream starting at 6 p.m. Thursday and ticketholders will be able to view the films through Sunday.
Nosh boxes, by GB Culinary, are available as an add-on to the ticket price and can be picked up on Thursday at the Dairy Art Center’s parking lot between 10 a.m.-noon.
Many of the films feature classically trained pros decked out in eye-catching ensembles, but one spotlights inmates, in prison uniforms, from within a number of correctional facilities.
“Dance To Be Free’s film, ‘Say Her Name,’ captures the poignant humanity of incarcerated women,” said filmmaker Chloe Weber, who is the program assistant for Dance To Be Free, a Boulder-based nonprofit that helps prisoners work through trauma with dance. “These women are often forgotten and are shamed for the crime they committed, but in this film you will get a glimpse into the devastating trauma and pain that many of these women have gone through.”
Filmed within eight prisons from Denver to Florida, the video showcases the therapeutic power of dance that the organization delivers to female inmates.
“I anticipated some resistance to the program when I imagined bringing it into prison,” said Lucy Wallace, Dance To Be Free’s founder and former owner of the Alchemy of Movement dance studio, who also worked on the film. “What amazed me is how quickly and profoundly the women opened up — not only to the movement, but to the writing part of our program where they shared so openly with each other about their past and their trauma.”
Since its inception in 2016, Dance To Be Free has expanded to 17 prisons throughout the U.S. and trained close to 600 women as dance teachers.
“It was quite powerful to make this film,” Weber said. “I knew I wanted to use ‘Somebody’s Beloved’ by MILCK and Bipolar Sunshine. The lyrics in (the song) was a perfect template to be able to share how important it is for Dance To Be Free to see the women in our program as human beings.”
The 2020 release’s lyrics read, “She was somebody’s daughter / Somebody’s friend / Someone who built her dreams with every breath / Whom others could depend / More than a number / More than a story / More than a memory.”
“For me, the hardest part of making the film was navigating the complexities of the prison setting,” Weber said. “It was important to me to maintain a balance of the women’s privacy without exploiting their stories, while also finding a way to be able to show the common thread that weaves through all of their lives, trauma.”
The film pairs raw documentary-style interviews with footage of jubilant dance sessions.
“Witnessing the transformation of incarcerated women through the program is so incredible,” Weber said “I love watching the more introverted women come out of their shells. As an introvert myself, I can relate with the women who want to pull away from the exercises that force them into an external realm. Yet time after time, I see the women showing up. Perhaps every part of them is saying ‘run,’ but they are open and receptive. It is hard to explain, but the rapport and trust that is created during the program is like warm honey. By the end of the training, the women are sharing laughter, silence, tears and honesty.”
For founder Wallace, the style of dance she delivers veers from following restrictive structure.
“It is not about performing, control or perfection — it is about freedom, release and healing,” Wallace said. “The only time I stopped dancing was from about the age of 21 to 30 years old — I was lost and confused as to what to do with my life. I cannot imagine the absence of dance in my life — especially during the times we are in today.”
In addition to bringing the art form to prisons, Wallace is allowing many others to reap the healing benefits of movement from the comfort of their homes and with site-specific sessions.
“We just launched the subscription program, the ‘I Dance For Her Collective’ last week and it is going well,” Wallace said. “I teach and film at my friend’s beautiful farm in north Longmont where she has a sunlit barn for ventilated in-person classes and for filming.”
Once the pandemic lifts, Wallace plans to hit the road again and bring her programming to more facilities.
“What I love about dancing is that I can express myself without saying a single word,” said Angel Kaba, a New York-based choreographer who was born and raised in Brussels and whose film was selected to be a part of the film festival.
Kaba started doing ballet at the age of 6.
Inspired by different methods, she eventually developed her own dance technique called “Ka’frican” by combining a hip-hop foundation with Afro-urban dance styles.
“I like to provide a safe space — whether it be film or the stage — for my artists to create and an opportunity for them to express themselves and showcase their gift, in this case on camera,” Kaba said.
Filmed in just one overcast day in New York City, “End of Time” pairs the Beyoncé song of the same name with high-energy moves from a group of passionate dancers.
It’s a piece that Kaba said is meant to convey “a sense of community and freedom.”
“This new normal is interesting because I believe that it showed us the best and worst of each other,” Kaba said. “I do teach, practice and rehearse online a lot. I miss being in the room with dancers, but the situation forced me to open my mind. I wanted to direct my own little project, but I never had the time, so because of COVID I was able to take that direction that I wanted to take for so long.”
In addition to organizing the festival, Hubiak also crafted a film that is included in the diverse lineup.
“It was a great experience to be back in the studio after this year away,” Hubiak said. “As for themes behind my work, I am always curious about the nitty gritty of the human condition. ‘The Wanting’ looks at our constant need to fill the void and the falsehoods of desire. I wanted to examine the natural instinct that we all share — the more we get, the happier we will be.”
In the intriguing short, viewers will see a dancer struggling to clutch a bounty of bright yellow lemons that eventual roll to the floor.
“Better Together/ Distance is a Weapon,” a film by Boulder Ballet Artistic Director Lance Hardin, was filmed at Hotel Boulderado in November and will premiere at the fest.
“We were joined by local dance artist Martez Mckinzy and had a great time,” Lance Hardin said of the Denver dancer. “Ray Bailey, our videographer, joined us again in capturing our time so wonderfully. My initial thought was to feature the iconic Hotel Boulderado and also give a nod to Boulder Ballet community members from our many visits as an organization there. Boulder Ballet families will enjoy some key shots that may hint towards the past.”
While Hardin’s film was crafted prior to the devastating mass shooting on Monday, its message takes on new meaning in the aftermath of recent events.
“In addition I hoped to convey our natural desire for togetherness amidst an inability to do so,” Hardin said. “Our time apart has only heightened our need for connection and acknowledgement of a certain lack of connection these days. We are all so shaken by the events at King Soopers on Monday, where the same applies. We are simply better together through connection of any kind. Dance offers that ability to connect on several levels and I think we captured that as well.”
From works that uplift to ones that make viewers ponder, the pieces selected are sure to have an impact.
Viewers can vote for the Audience Choice Award by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “VOTE” in the subject line. Voting begins on opening night and closes Monday at midnight. The Audience Choice Award winner will receive a cash prize of $200.
“We are honestly just delighted to offer an opportunity to the artists that have been affected by the pandemic,” Hubiak said. “This festival gives us a chance to broaden our reach and connect with creators and audiences all over the country, as well as give back to our incredible community that has supported us throughout this period.”