Celebrating its 10th anniversary in the middle of a pandemic, Leicester-based dance festival LDIF has adapted and put its entire programme of work online. Rachel Elderkin speaks to founder Pawlet Brookes about the benefits of a digital festival and the importance of supporting black dance in the UK
For 10 years, international dance day on April 29 has marked the launch of Leicester-based festival Let’s Dance International Frontiers.
The annual event brings together artists, practitioners and academics from across the world for a programme of performances, talks, workshops, film screenings and an international conference, hosted in venues across the city.
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, LDIF’s 2020 festival was always going to be a little different. But with restrictions on mass gatherings due to Covid-19 coming into effect just weeks before the launch, it was forced to move online.
Pawlet Brookes, artistic director of LDIF and chief executive of diversity-led Leicester arts group Serendipity, says: “Physically the festival was not possible, but through technology we can still be open – we can still be the transnational company we are, working across borders with artists from around the world.”
After taking the decision to continue the event online, Brookes and her team spoke to artists worldwide and pulled together a digital festival of dance in a few days. “The question was how to keep that visual presence of dance and the work we’re doing alive,” she says.
’The question was how to keep the work we’re doing alive’
The new festival programme, Alternative LDIF20, includes online performances, talks, film screenings, an exhibition, podcast and book launch. In curating the new programme, Brookes felt it important to maintain the feel of an ‘event’. For this reason, most of the programme will be available to view for just 24 hours. “It is a curated programme you choose to come and see. The work won’t just be out in the ether,” Brookes says.
For those unable to present their work online, their performances will now take place during next year’s LDIF alongside those already programmed. “We’re turning double bills into triple bills – it’s going to be a big festival.”
Alternative LDIF20 launches today, the date originally planned to start the festival’s birthday celebrations. For Brookes that anniversary, and the festival’s move online, makes LDIF’s legacy more significant than ever. “LDIF looks at black dance from a transnational perspective. That means dance from the Caribbean, Africa, the US, Europe. It all sits side by side so that we build a picture of diversity within this dance form. Now this is a chance to share the resources that we’ve got,” she explains.
Over the past decade, LDIF has been building an archive of work from the festival and its research into dance by African and African-Caribbean diasporas, both in the UK and internationally.
Going online has provided an opportunity to reach a wider audience. As Brookes points out, the digital festival “has removed a lot of restrictions in working with artists across borders”. Considering that 70% of the festival’s artists are international, this has definite advantages. “We’ve been able to reach networks the festival wouldn’t have in its physical sense. Hopefully when we get back to taking work into physical venues, the festival can continue in these different spaces and places.”
In the meantime, the archive has enabled LDIF to curate its digital programme. Throughout the festival, a daily event – Dance Dialogues – will present footage from past conferences, sharing the thinking and practices of artists, choreographers and academics from African and African-Caribbean diasporas. “We had already drafted Dance Dialogues as a programme of works,” Brookes says, adding: “It’s just been catapulted forward at a speed I hadn’t anticipated.”
Finding new ways to share knowledge is central to LDIF. “America has built its own story, but in terms of black dance in the UK, we might look to the Caribbean and Africa, but we’re not always celebrating the people here,” Brookes says. “We’re often seen as niche but we’re not, we’re part of the story – why is it not in dance education?”
To address this, LDIF works closely with Leicester’s De Montfort University, and aims to connect with dance programmes at other universities. “It’s not about replacing anything; it’s about sitting alongside it,” Brookes says.
“For instance, I’m not talking to you about Balanchine without talking about Jean-Léon Destiné – it’s a joint history, and I can see how they influence one another. Philadanco and Joan Myers Brown have been around forever – she’s our patron and hardly anyone knows who she is.”
LDIF wants to make the work of these artists and many others more visible. It also wants to invest in black British artists and continue building the knowledge and awareness of its work outside of the festival period.
The festival’s annual publication, which draws together discussions from its international conference, is part of that drive, and this year’s online festival may also encourage interest. “It’s a chance to hear the voices of the people behind the work – what inspired and motivated them. You don’t normally hear all of that, but it’s important,” says Brookes.
“The more we get out there and meet with people, then dance is not as far removed as people think… It’s been a really interesting journey to put on the work of artists people don’t know.
“Just because someone is unknown doesn’t mean their work isn’t of good quality – it’s just that audiences haven’t been introduced to it yet. It’s about opening up new doors and avenues, for audiences and artists.”
Reflecting this, Alternative LDIF20 will culminate with the debut of a short dance film called 30 Seconds of Freedom. Comprised of movement clips submitted by dancers and enthusiasts from around the world, it’s a chance for artists and audiences to connect and be creative.
“Putting work online, we can still offer these moments of freedom and escape,” says Brookes. “It’s another opportunity to celebrate, share and be joyful.”
Founder/artistic director: Pawlet Brookes
When: Annual event starting on international dance day, April 29
Patron: Joan Myers Brown
Alternative LDIF20 runs online until May 16. Further details: serendipity-uk.com