Akademi Dance Film Festival 2021

The first ever edition of our online dance-film festival, ADFF, took place on 19 and 20 March 2021, celebrating some of the most creative digital collaborations with South Asian dance cultures and forms.

Curated by screendance practitioner, Omari ‘Motion’ Carter, and our Artistic Director, Suba Subramaniam, the festival featured new and archived South Asian dance-films along with selected talks with filmmakers and dance artists.

The films covered a wide range of topics from motherhood, the queer body and the commoditisation of identity, to India’s dream robot to the moon, amongst other thought-provoking subjects. Several of these films were a direct response to life in lockdown.

We also commissioned three short original screendance works that were shown during the festival. Watch the trailer or explore the full programme below.

Supported by Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The Motion Dance Collective.

Watch the trailer

Friday 19 March 2021

Screening 1

Online for 24 hours from 11am (on YouTube)

“Apotheosis: the glorification of a subject to divine level and most commonly, the treatment of a human like a god.”

APOTHEOSIS is Akademi’s first screendance collaboration with The Motion Dance Collective and The British Museum.

  • Director/Sound Recordist/Foley: Omari ‘Motion’ Carter
  • 1st Assistant Director: Anna Clifford
  • Director of Photography/Editor/Audio Assembly: James Williams
  • 1st Assistant Camera: Bly Richards
  • 2nd Assistant Camera: Natasha Zund
  • Production Assistant: Apollonia Bauer
  • Music Composition: Archita Kumar
  • Executive Producers: Mira Kaushik, Subathra Subramaniam and Kirsten Burrows
  • Consultant Director: Divya Kasturi
  • Producer: Nina Head
  • Dancers: Suhani Dhanki, Elena Catalano, Maryam Shakiba, Khavita Kaur

In 2018 India was planning to send a small robot called Ek Choti si Asha (A Small Dream) to the moon to roam the lunar surface for 14 days. In this film by Rachel Davis and Daniel Saul (R&D Studio), Dancer Hemabharathy Palani creates a woman’s journey across Bangalore in tribute to an audacious venture carrying the aspirations of a billion people.

Hemabharathy Palani is a choreographer and dancer who has performed in some of the world’s largest dance venues. Her work has won her prizes in Germany, India and the UK and she has worked on multiple film and stage productions over her expansive career.

  • Part of Channel 4 television ‘Random Acts – Big Dance India’ series.
  • Choreographer/Dancer: Hemabharathy Palani
  • Music: Graeme Miller
  • Cinematography: Vinod Raja
  • Produced and Directed by Daniel Saul and Rachel Davies

Kadam Dance presents this new dance short film by Katie Ryan. The film commission required the artist to use gardens, nature and open spaces as a spur for the creation – whether a cultivated garden or the wilderness with less human intervention. Katie Ryan chose to work on the scene from the Garden of Gethsemane, responding to the lines from Matthew 26:38: ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done’.

Choreographer and dancer Katie Ryan is a free-lance dance artist and founding member of the Odissi Ensemble. Her choreographies include: Kalpavriksha (2011), This Wicked Desire (2012), Les Pêcheurs de Perles (2013) with Opera Holland Park, My Soul is Alight (2014-2016) and Saheli (2016). In 2017 Katie received the Marion North Mentoring Award from Akademi and the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund and was mentored by Seeta Patel.

Kadam is a Luton based dance company that is dedicated to creating new work and critiquing performance through its publishing activities on Pulse Connects.

  • Dance: Katie Ryan
  • Music: Preetha Narayanan
  • Film: Greta Zabulyte
  • Produced by Kadam Dance.
  • Kadam Dance & Music Commission 2020 by Pulse Connects.
  • Kadam acknowledges the support of National Lottery and the Arts Council of England Emergency Funds.

NuBody is an exciting short film exploring the light versus dark, the real versus fairytale versions of female existence. It poses questions about ownership of the female body, womanhood, what the world is teaching our daughters and asks why so many daughters are buried before they get a chance to live? NuBody is a stunningly powerful and emotive piece featuring award winning dancer and choreographer Sonia Sabri, Artistic Director of Sonia Sabri Company.

  • Choreographer/Dance Artist: Sonia Sabri
  • Director of Photography/Editor: Mathew Beckett
  • Composer/Musician: Sarvar Sabri
  • Saxophone: Alvin Davies
  • Sound Design: Andy Vine
  • Lighting Gaffer/Grip: John Palmer
  • Assistant Editor: Jed Cowdell
  • Hair & Make-Up: Emily Hall
  • Costume: Rimpy
  • Camera Assist: Hannah Mead & Aemelia Taylor
  • Production Assistant: Adeed Hussain

Cuppa? is a table-top dance, a playful duet between Indian and British approaches to enjoying a cup of tea.

  • A Channel 4: Random Acts film
  • Director/Writer: Elena Nebreda Lozano
  • Choreographer/Performer: Avatâra Ayuso
  • Performer: Arunima Kumar
  • Storyboard: Laura Plata Jiménez with thanks to Nina Head
  • Camera: Adam Ray Brown
  • Music by: Baluji Shrivastav
  • Producer/Title Music & Sound Design: Gabi Braun
  • Post-Production: Braunarts
  • Executive Producer for Braunarts: Terry Braun
  • Production Executive: Fiona Lamptey
  • Executive Producer: Anne Beresford
  • Commissioning Editor: Catherine Bray

Kattam Katti transports you to Uttarayan, the world-famous festival in Gujarat, North India, where millions of people from different cities, religions and social classes come together to fly kites in a unique event marking the transition from winter into spring.

Uttarayan is extremely competitive. Participants go so far as to coat their kite strings with glass pigment; while this is visually appealing, it is also designed to cut the strings of other kites. Tapping into this competitive chaos, creativity and colour of the event, Pagrav Dance Company brings this theatre work in the form of film with enchanting lyricism, exquisite technique and strong drama.

“The kite as a choreographic entity is fascinating and how it relates to Thakore’s primary kathak movement language is one of the most interesting aspects of Kattam Katti.“ – Ian Abott (Kattam Katti, preview)

  • Director: Omari ‘Motion’ Carter (The Motion Dance Collective)
  • Choreographer: Urja Desai Thakore
  • Set Design: Simon Daw
  • Lighting Design: Hector Murray
  • Dramaturgy: Lou Cope
  • Creative Producer: Nina Head
  • Production Manager: Salvatore Scollo
  • Sound Engineer: Camilo Tirado
  • Dancers: Meera Patel, Mira Salat, Saloni Saraf, Subhash Viman Gorania
  • Musicians: Gurdain Singh Rayaat, Hiren Chate, Kaviraj Singh, Praveen Pratap

5pm to 6pm

In Conversation with Hetain Patel (Zoom)

Artist Hetain Patel in conversation with our Artistic Director, Suba Subramaniam

Hetain Patel is a British born artist of Indian descent who grew up in Bolton and is now based in London. Patel makes photographs, videos, sculptures and live performances, usually for galleries and theatres. He is interested in connecting marginalised identities with the mainstream in an effort to destabilise notions of authenticity and promote personal freedom. With an autobiographical starting point he uses humour and the languages of popular culture and explores fantasy through a domestic lens.

6.30pm to 8pm

Screening 1 Discussion & Q&A (Zoom)

Featuring filmmakers from screening 1

Filmmakers and other team members from the films screened on day 1 of ADFF will be discussing their working process and answer questions from the audience.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Screening 2 – featuring three Akademi Screendance Commissions

Online for 24 hours from 10.30am (on YouTube)

MaMa is a motherhood inspired dance film exploring themes of pregnancy and early motherhood. Combining Bharatanatyam dance vocabulary with a contemporary sensibility, Kirsten Newell and Oxana Banshikova explore, compare, and share their personal journeys as mothers.

Kirsten and Oxana are both Kalakshetra graduates living in Edinburgh where they teach, dance and create together through their dance company Cosmic Dance (founded by Oxana in Hong Kong in 2007). Merging years of performing and teaching experience, they are both passionate about bringing exciting, innovative and high-quality South Asian dance to Scotland.

  • An Akademi Seed Commission
  • Concept/Choreography/Artistic Direction: Kirsten Newell & Oxana Banshikova
  • Videography: Sandy Butler
  • Mentor: Subathra Subramaniam
  • Composer/Piano: Jennifer Austin
  • Composer/Fiddle/Electronic Production: Cameron Newell
  • Singer: Ankna Arockiam
  • Costume: Alison Brown
  • Supported by Creative Scotland and Akademi

In a tick box society where identity has become a commodity, this dance film by Seeta Patel, Kamala Devam and Maria Åkesson sees them take a humorous look at how they as artists are influenced by the expectations and definitions placed upon them. Who puts us in these boxes? Society, institutions, individuals or ourselves? Not a simple retaliation, the work observes and comments upon how we embody these expectations to find a certain safety and solace in them, almost enjoying them. But what happens to us when the box becomes our home?

  • Producer: Seeta Patel
  • Directors: Seeta Patel & Kamala Devam
  • Director of Photography: Maria Åkesson
  • Writer: Ankur Bahl
  • Sound Design: Genevieve Crutchfield
  • Lighting: Peter Schiazza
  • Art Direction: Chris Faulds
  • Set: Amie English
  • Actors: Rhoda Ofori-Attah, Alisitair Murray, Kamala Devam, Seeta Patel

Experience a digital projection injection of South Asian movement into the diaspora of local Leicester, which promises to amaze you with a never seen before experience of your space.

Kesha Raithatha & InkMilk are enduring collaborators who have now seized the challenge of turning unconventional and ignored public spaces into a stage by creating site specific work in a virtual space.

Kesha Raithatha is a dancer and choreographer who embodies Kathak and Contemporary movement. She creates work that is rich in detail and experimentally reconsiders contemporary South Asian dance. Kesha is a freelance artist who works largely in the UK and India.

InkMilk is the alias of multidisciplinary creative practitioner G Sian who brought you SanskritiGraffiti (that 100m drawing on the windows of CURVE theatre, Leicester, UK) and directed Tabla with a Difference (with The Ska Vengers and Bandish Projekt) for An Indian Summer in 2016.

The latest production from Amina Khayyam Dance Company is a digital kathak dance-theatre performance in response to theatres being shut for most of the year. The film has been made remotely during lockdown, using green screen technology overlaid with animations. 

Catch The Bird Who Won’t Fly comprises four individual stories, poignantly narrating the real-life experience of women from South Asian communities, who have suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse. These stories were researched with AKDC’s network of women groups, including Southall Black Sisters.

“These short, but perfectly curated vignettes are true testimonies of the pain and tragedy experienced by the women and the families we support. There’s something about the use of animation juxtaposing the stark reality of the crime that makes Catch The Bird Who Won’t Fly an emotive, bold and uncompromising body of work”

Shakila Mann of Southall Black Sisters
  • Choreographer/Director/Writer: Amina Khayyam
  • Video/Animation: Louise Rhoades-Brown
  • Music/Sound Design: RENU
  • Performers: Jane Chan, Mithun Gill, Amina Khayyam
  • Tabla/Daf: Debasish Mukherjee
  • Vocal: Lucy Rahman, Sohini Alam, Rup Khatkar
  • Cello: Iain McHugh
  • Costume: Shaheda Choudhury
  • Producer/Dramaturgy: Hardial S. Rai

Bhairava evokes facets of Shiva, the Lord of Dance, as both the destroyer of evil and the guardian of time. He is fierce and drives terrible deeds, but he is also the Divine Protector and Supreme Guardian; his intention springs from pure compassion.

In this work, carried by a strong and deeply evocative musical score and by the singular energy of the ancient site of Hampi, dancer and choreographer Shantala Shivalingappa embodies the presence and distinctive qualities of Bhairava. With her technical mastery and refined expressivity, she alternates between moments of precise symbolic gestures and more abstract body language surging from the powerful and omnipresent persona of Bhairava, creating a vivid incarnation of the deity.

Bhairava was directed and produced by veteran dance-filmmakers Marlene Millar & Philip Szporer (Mouvement Perpétuel, Montréal) with cinematography by Kes Tagney. This 14-minute site-specific dance-for-camera film was filmed on location in Anegundi and Hampi, India in February 2017.

  • Directed by: Marlene Millar & Philip Szporer
  • Choreographer/Dancer: Shantala Shivalingappa
  • Cinematography: Kes Tagney
  • Writers: Marlene Millar, Shantala Shivalingappa, Philip Szporer
  • Editor: Marlene Millar
  • Sound Editor/Mix: Dino Giancola
  • Musical Composition: Ramesh Jetty
  • Musicians: Ramesh Jetty, B.P.Haribabu, N.Ramakrishnan, Jayaram Kikkeri Suryanarayan
  • Producers: Marlene Millar & Philip Szporer
  • Production Company/Distributor: Mouvement Perpétuel

A short documentary to accompany the dance film Bhairava, featuring dancer-choreographer Shantala Shivalingappa.

​I am your skin you are my breath he is her voice
We are your kith you are our kin they are their choice
You spin they dart you play we live to dance and more
To where the earth weaves with the sky will we explore

In dialogue with these words, this dance film challenges perceptions of gender and questions how we frame sexuality.

I Am Your Skin by Jaivant Patel Dance is one of three Akademi Screendance Commissions for ADFF 2021.

  • Creative Direction: Jaivant Patel Dance
  • Words: Ali Harwood
  • Video Production: Matthew Cawrey
  • Vocals: Jaivant Patel, Ali Harwood, Bisakha Sarker, Urja Desai Thakore, Abha Desai, Victoria Ekpo, MJ Pitt

“Stay at Home” – the overwhelming message over the past year during the Covid-19 Pandemic. This film is inspired by the experience of some for whom ‘home’ is not always a place that is stable, safe, and physically and emotionally containing.

For many young people leaving Local Authority Care, the last year has been acutely challenging for their physical and emotional well-being, impacted by multiple factors outside of their control. Coram Voice noted in April 2020 – “Importantly at a time when we are all asked to stay at home, 37% of care leavers do not always feel safe where they live, and a third do not feel that where they live is right for them.”

This film highlights a sense of instability, displacement and waiting, experienced by so many during this time.

Where The Walls Do Not Contain Me by Archana Ballal & Luisa Lazzaro is one of three Akademi Screendance Commissions for ADFF 2021.

  • Concept, Choreography, and Performance: Archana Ballal
  • Filming & Editing: Luisa Lazzaro
  • Music: Archita Kumar
  • Creative Collaborator: Lape Odebode
  • Special Thanks to Omari Carter, Nick Calori and Chris Thompson

I began this artwork thinking about feelings of stagnation & frustration in the body. This was linked to lockdown & feeling physically ‘stopped’ as an artist. I wanted to create something that felt like a quiet rebellion. Drawing attention to the ‘Aura’ that dance brings, trying to capture how it ‘feels’ rather than how it may ‘look’.

As a painter & dancer I have always felt a close link between the two artforms, interchanging principles between these practices with my work. Blue or Nilah in sanskrit, is an emotive colour for me. I am terrified of expansive amounts of this colour, as it gives me a sensation of drowning or choking. Yet there is also an unmissable warmth and radiance to it. It is comforting that this hue is used to depict Hindu gods & with that there is an empowering notion to adorn myself in my deepest fears & shining past them; my liberation.

nīlah by Kaajel Patel is one of three Akademi Screendance Commissions for ADFF 2021.

  • Choreographer/Dancer/Director: Kaajel Patel
  • Movement Assistant: Olivia Norris
  • Camera Operator/Editor: Will Henries
  • Composer: Carmel Smickersgill
  • Mentor: Sima Gonsai
  • Special thanks to Leena Patel & Boathouse Studios

1pm to 2pm

In conversation with Sima Gonsai (Zoom)

Filmmaker Sima Gonsai in conversation with Omari ‘Motion’ Carter

Sima Gonsai is an award-winning freelance director/filmmaker with a specialism in screendance, film training and video content production. Our screendance expert Omari ‘Motion’ Carter will be discussing the details of the craft with her. See also our feature article Akademi in conversation with to Sima Gonsai

3pm to 4.30pm

Akademi Screendance Commissions Discussion (Zoom)

Featuring Jaivant Patel Dance, Archana Ballal & Kaajel Patel, moderated by Saloni Saraf

Filmmakers and other team members from Akademi’s Screendance Commissions will be discussing their working process and answer questions from the audience.

6.30pm to 8pm

Screening 2 Discussion and Q&A (Zoom)

Featuring Filmmakers from Screening 2

Filmmakers and other team members from the films screened on day 2 of ADFF will be discussing their working process and answer questions from the audience.

8.30pm to 9.30pm

Dance Party with DJ Ritu (Zoom)


Come and join us for the official ADFF 2021 Afterparty with DJ Ritu, pioneering international turntablist and former BBC Radio presenter who manages London’s longest running club nights: Kuch Kuch and Club Kali.

Join the mailing list

Sign up