Serendipity’s Digital Revolution

Georgina Payne 

As we see the rise of technology being used within the arts from AI to gaming technology, we look at how boundaries can be challenged.  Digital content and its vision allow creatives to dream, to push boundaries and discover old and new concepts, whilst forging a new language and occupying new spaces.

In 2022, Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage started a new initiative, Black Digital Dance Revolution, a two-year funded project, a nationally significant project working with regional partners: Serendipity (Leicester), Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Leeds), Dance City (Newcastle), Dance Umbrella (London) and beyond.  As a project, Black Digital Dance Revolution drew on the dance heritage of these four cities to develop a programme of digital and physical work including dance films, workshops and artist-led residencies.  It explored how digital technologies can be integrated to push the boundaries of the ways in which artistic work is created, documented and shared, thereby building stronger relationships and networks across organisations in the UK dance sector and establishing a living legacy for Black dance.

With Black Digital Dance Revolution coming to an end as a project in December 2023, since then we have been able to take time to reflect on its programme over the past two years.  One project allowed us to do just that, Digital BlackCentric Week, Serendipity’s first fully digital week in November 2023. Digital BlackCentric Week allowed us to create a programme of new work, thoughts and experiences by giving voice to Black creatives, researchers and academics, showing the importance of where Black leadership is needed in the pivotal development of technology.  This was achieved by premiering five new dance films, sharing international work, engaging in cutting-edge discussions, Q&As and the  presentation of academic papers.

As part of Digital BlackCentric Week, Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage was proud to premiere Let’s Dance in the City 2023, an initiative that encouraged artists to take ownership of public spaces, whether they are structures of power, places to gather or historic landmarks, to create a series of innovative dance films.  After sharing the dance films on the first day of the digital week, which highlighted Black British dance on film, we held our first live Q&A with filmmaker, Cayla Mae Simpson, where Pawlet Brookes and Cayla discussed the process of filming Let’s Dance in the City 2023 and comparing that process and prep for filming LDIF23.  

Djoe Tomakloe and Cayla Mae Simpson. Photographer Georgina Payne.

Throughout the week we premiered and shared various UK and international works, from the winners – Tshediso Kabulu, Maulid Owino and Oscar O’Ryan – of Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience’s (South Africa) digital platform, Open Horizons, too Pé no Mundo Dance Company, based in Brazil, who shared Out of the Box, a dance film that looks at removing the stereotypes that we are sometimes placed in.  Choreographers, dancers and directors of Pé no Mundo, Claudia Nwabasili and Roges Doglas joined Pawlet Brookes for the second Q&A of the week.  From dance films to Q&As, our third day of the week introduced papers from Carol Leeming, Vidal Montgomery, Nygilia McClain and Kevin J Brazant, who wrote papers according to one the following themes: Afrofuturism, technology as a creative tool, international connections, access and accessibility, and race behind the keyboard.  Each presented their papers and then engaged in a post presentation Q&A with Pawlet, where she delved further into their research and other key relatable areas to their work.  

One of the key commissions to come out of Black Digital Dance Revolution was Interpretations – Siren Calls: To an Illusive Journey, and the documentary and tour that then followed.  Commissioned by Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage, composed by Philip Herbert with two independent choreographic interpretations by Monique Jonas and Thomas Prestø, Interpretations – Siren Calls: To an Illusive Journey seeks to honour the Windrush generation and crystallise their experiences. Touring to our partner cities Leicester, London, Leeds and Newcastle, the film showcased behind the scenes footage on the making of the shows, including interviews with the producer, composer, choreographers and musicians.  During the tour, each sharing of the film was accompanied with a discussion, Q&A and a masterclass taught by Thomas Talawa Prestø that explored the Talawa Technique™. 

The other key commission that truly pushed the use and boundaries of technology was Silent Beat: A Haptic Conversation, which had its world premiere during LDIF23.  This commission embraced dance and haptics, looking at how haptics can be used creatively within the realms of dance but also empower and deliver cutting-edge work at the vanguard of cultural practice. Working alongside Antoine Hunter, Soweto Kinch, Tonderai Ratasi and in collaboration with De Montfort University, we investigated, produced and shared during LDIF23 an experimental work in which haptic technology can be used to relay music in new ways and the practical applications this might have for Deaf dancers and choreographers. 

Antoine Hunter, Photographer Georgina Payne.

This project brought light, legacy making and technology to the forefront of the work we were already creating.  This project explored not just technology in its simplest form but to look at how technology, digital platforms and applications can enhance our creative work.  Over the course of the two years, we have had the privilege of working with many different artists, whether based here in the UK or internationally, giving voice and platform to those in the tech sector from the African, African Caribbean and LatinX Diaspora, whether as artists, academics or those in leadership roles, giving them a chance to share their work.  This is just the beginning of the digital work that Serendipity has in store. So be sure to join our mailing list or become a member to keep up to date with what we have coming up next and be a part of the journey, the Serendipity Digital Revolution. 

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