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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh gets a new festival for dance on film

A pandemic shift toward online programming has inspired a local dance troupe to create what might be Pittsburgh’s first-ever dance-film festival.

dancer Sophie Powell
Jamie Erin Murphy
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Jamie Erin Murphy choreographed Sophie Powell in a film inspired by Pittsburgh's church doors

The Constructed Sight Dance Film Festival shares its name with Constructed Sight, the online platform for short dance films created in 2020 by Shana Simmons Dance. It begins Fri., March 11, with a one-night in-person opening event featuring a dozen films at Attack Theatre, in Lawrenceville. It continues online through March 20, with 50 films from 20 countries.

Constructed Sight began as a way for the troupe to create dance films inspired by local public artworks, says company founder Shana Simmons. It soon began accepting applications from outside Pittsburgh, including overseas. The festival, organized by Simmons, Jamie Erin Murphy, and Brady Sanders, was a natural next step.

The submission process was fairly extensive. “We had about 120 films that we watched from all over the world. And we narrowed that down to 50 international films,” said Simmons.

The films come from as far away as Israel, Finland and the United Kingdom. One is inspired by body parts as glimpsed on Zoom meetings, she said.

No theme was required of entrants. “Some are entertaining and funny. Some are just breathtaking. Some are really meaningful and might make you cry. So it kind of runs the gamut,” said Simmons.

However, she said, the entries from Simmons Dance members continued drawing inspiration from public artworks and other landmarks. Simmons’ dance work takes place at “Cloud Arbor,” the installation of tall metal poles that intermittently spray mist, near the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Murphy’s is an homage to the doorways of Pittsburgh churches. Sanders’ film is inspired by a large modernist sculpture along the South Side Riverfront Trail.

Attack Theatre also contributes a film.

Simmons herself said taken together, the films reflect how the pandemic changed the world of dance film.

“Whether it be a dance film that was created for film, or a dance piece that is filmed creatively, I think it pushed dance into both of those genres a lot more,” she said.

Simmons’ company, for instance, was one of four companies in a 2021 project called the Virtual Dance Exchange, for which artists created three works shot in a 360-degree format. Using a phone, computer or virtual-reality headset, audiences were able to “wander” the performance space while the show was in progress.

Simmons added that the hybrid online/in-person nature of the Constructed Sight festival could be a model for future events, pandemic or no. “I think there’s a way to do both, and to blend both,” she said.

The Fri., March 11, kickoff, complete with red carpet, takes place at Attack Theatre’s space, 212 45th St., in Lawrenceville. More information is here.