Dance: Film Festival

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Dance: Film Festival

As a new festival of dance movies slides into Edinburgh, Kelly Apter talks to the two programmers who believe audiences will leave cinemas with a spring in their step

In 1980 the nation went wild for legwarmers; in 1983 dance classes were filled to bursting; and in 2000 boys took to ballet like never before. Such is the power of the dance film, that Fame, Flashdance and Billy Elliot gripped the public’s imagination like a snug leotard. And there are plenty more films which send an audience out into the night with one collective thought: ‘I want to do that’.

Whether you act upon that compulsion or not, there’s no denying that dance films can produce an incomparable feelgood factor. Which is why two women with a combined love of both dance and film felt that Scotland was crying out for a festival devoted to the genre. Steph Wright of Dance Base and Beverley Nicolson of the Filmhouse have put together a programme of feature films, shorts and workshops capturing a wide variety of dance styles.

So when you walk out of the Filmhouse consumed by the ‘I want to do that’ feeling, you can head over to Dance Base and get to it. Workshops in flamenco, breakdance, ballet and mambo are all lined-up, while the films themselves are drawn from the less obvious shelf of dance movies.

‘We were keen to show lots of different dance styles,’ says Wright. ‘And although we could quite easily have gone for the Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, Strictly Ballroom kind of film, we wanted to show that there are different kinds of dance films out there.’ Diversity has definitely been the key to Wright and Nicolson’s programming, with films running the gamut from Hollywood musical to gritty documentary.

Opening with the Gene Kelly classic On the Town, the festival goes on to showcase ballet in The Turning Point, flamenco in Carmen, breakdancing in The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy, Krumping (an aggressive form of hip hop) in Rize, and mambo in Dirty Dancing. Plus there’s an extensive programme of shorts, and Rhythm Is It!, a fascinating documentary featuring Scottish choreographer, Royston Maldoom.

‘We wanted to find films that weren’t exactly obscure but maybe weren’t as widely seen,’ says Wright. ‘Dirty Dancing is, of course, the exception, but the unique thing about that is you wouldn’t expect to come to the Filmhouse and see it. So it’s also about trying to attract a different audience into that cinema and new people into Dance Base.’

For Nicolson, an important element was giving people a chance to watch films on the big screen that are only currently available on DVD. ‘That was one of the key points about all the films involved,’ she says. ‘That apart from Dirty Dancing you’ll very rarely get to see any of these films at the cinema and have that big screen experience. So that’s why we’re starting with a musical and a bit of razzle dazzle.’

As well as the obvious audience development benefits for both venues, Wright was also keen to attract more males to the genre. ‘One of the constant battles is to get boys and men dancing,’ she explains. ‘But we’ve programmed some very masculine dancing roles. Gene Kelly performs ballet in On the Town, but in a very muscular, masculine way, as does Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Turning Point. And it’s the same with Rize, with some very big, muscly men not being ashamed to dance.’

Nicolson and Wright hope this inaugural event will be the start of something bigger, possibly spreading to cinemas and dance agencies across Scotland. They’ve barely scratched the surface of the dance film canon, but if the event does become annual, Dirty Dancing is as cheesy as they’re prepared to go. ‘Over the past few years there have been a lot of mainstream dance films, like Take the Lead and Step Up,’ says Wright. ‘And although the dance is always amazing, the films are a bit debatable. So we want to show people that you can have amazing dance, but that the film can be great, too.’

Dance: Film Festival, Dance Base and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Mon 29 Oct–Sun 4 Nov. For full programme details and ticket offers go to www.dancefilmscotland.com

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