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Akademi Dance Film Festival 2021: Artistic director Subathra Subramaniam tells us about this new initiative exploring lockdown, sexuality, motherhood, artistic practice and other topical subjects…

Akademi Dance Film Festival 2021: Artistic director Subathra Subramaniam tells us about this new initiative exploring lockdown, sexuality, motherhood, artistic practice and other topical subjects…

Dance company has commissioned new work and will be talking to Hetain Patel, winner of the prestigious Jarman Prize…

ONE OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING and best-known Asian dance companies in the country is about to launch its first ever Dance-Film Festival on Friday (March 19).

Created around the theme of dance on screen or ‘screendance’ as it terms it, Akademi will host a series of newly commissioned and curated films and discussions as part of the two-day Akademi Dance Film Festival 2021 (ADDF 2021).

The festival has been curated by screendance specialist Omari ‘Motion’ Carter and Akademi and includes completely new work and pieces that have already been filmed. Among the subjects explored are motherhood, sexual identity, its commodification, India’s plan to put a robot on the moon and other topical themes.

Suba Subramaniam Courtesy of Akademi -picture by Simon Richardson

It will also aim to reach to all those interested in South Asian dance on film – and will be available free online and examine the isolating conditions of lockdown and how artists respond to the challenges. caught up with Akademi’s new artistic director Subathra (Suba) Subramaniam to find out more. She replaced well-known cultural producer Mira Kaushik who stepped down in 2019, after more than 30 years as director. Subramaniam is also co-CEO with Kirsten Burrows. Subramaniam is a trained bharatanatyam dancer and has been dance director of two UK based outfits, Angika and Sadhana Dance. She is also a trained science teacher and as well as performing and choregraphing South Asian dance, she talks about her experiences as a science (organising two voyages to the High Arctic) and arts leader around the world.

MaMa by Kirsten Newell & Okana Banshikiva (one of the curate films) (ACV): What was the main inspiration for creating Akademi Dance-Film Festival 2021?

Suba Subramaniam (SS): There is a real lack of South Asian dance forms, bodies and narratives, in the dance-film world. The festival is a celebration of all of this and more. It is the first for Akademi and in the current digital realm where so much of our art exists at the moment, we wanted to curate something that feels meaningful to the now.

ACV: You will be presenting three newly commissioned dance film pieces. What are these about briefly?

SS: We wanted to give South Asian artists a small commission to think about movement, choreography and film making. We asked them to create a two-minute film about something they wanted to explore and create during this lockdown. The three themes that have emerged in the films are:-

👉 Perceptions of gender and how we frame sexuality

👉 The experience of some for whom ‘home’ is not always a place that is stable, safe and physically and emotionally containing

👉 Feelings of stagnation and frustration in the body linked to lockdown.

ACV: How much of a theme is lockdown in this new festival?

SS: All the commissioned films were made during lockdown and some of the curated ones also. This is Akademi’s first programmed artistic event since the new leadership team took over in January 2020. We wanted to ensure the first event really showcased South Asian dance in the digital sphere and what better way to do that than curate a Dance-Film Festival. We want to celebrate creativity, marginalised voices and dance forms along with the courage, tenacity and sheer determination of all our artists during this lockdown.

Hetain Patel winner of the Jarman Prize 2019

ACV: Could you tell us about the talks with artists – why did you want to include this?

SS: They are by Sima Gonsai and Hetain Patel (the Jarman prize recognises artists who use film to engage non-traditional audiences and is named after the radical filmmaker Derek Jarman, 1942-1994), both of whom bring a wonderfully interesting perspective to the whole ‘screendance’ genre. They will be discussing their process and journeys. The Q&As are an opportunity for the audience to get an insight into the process and thinking behind the dance-films. It is always great to hear artists speak about their work. Audiences can ask questions too as they will be live. We hope recordings of the talks and Q&As could become resources for those interested in the genre of screendance.

ACV: Will this become a permanent festival and do you envisage of hosting it as a physical event?

SS: We hope next time we can put out an open call for films and commission even more films. We sincerely hope this could become a yearly, eagerly anticipated event in the screendance calendar celebrating South Asian artists, movement and filmmakers.

Main picture: Courtesy of Akademi and The Motion Dance Collective


Akademi Dance-Film Festival 2021 starts 11am, Friday March 19-20

You can watch parts of the festival on Youtube and should register with Eventbrite for the full programme and registration (free) and for festival Zooms.
For Eventbrite link:

In Conversation with Hetain Patel is 5pm-6pm on Friday. See full programme (underneath video):

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture