dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Birmingham International Dance Festival goes digital
Dance fans can enjoy more than 70 online events with Birmingham International Dance Festival this June. Postponed in June 2020 due to the pandemic, the 2021 festival features globally renowned artists including Akram Khan Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
The June 3-13 programme will then be followed by an autumn edition of the festival between September 21 to October 3 featuring live events in Birmingham.
Birmingham International Dance Festival 2021
Postponing the biennial festival last spring was a heart-breaking decision but there was never any doubt it would be back as soon as practically possible, says festival curator and DanceXchange head of artistic programmes Lucie Mirkova. "We always thought of 2020 as a postponed festival and wanted to bring it back as soon as we could. It's an important part of the cultural life of Birmingham and we felt the responsibility to play an active part of the cultural recovery in our city and our region. So very shortly after the end of the first lockdown last autumn we started to think about what the 2021 version might look like."
Launched in 2008 and produced by DanceXchange, BIDF has grown to become one of the UK's largest dance festivals, with artists from across the world coming to perform in the city's venues and outdoor spaces. But for 2021, the team have had to create a festival of a different kind. Responding to the fluid pandemic situation, the decision was made to separate the festival into two halves with the spring festival being solely online and viewable through a new digital platform BIDF TV, created in collaboration with ZOO Venues, which pioneered online presentations at last year's Edinburgh Festival.
Lucie explains: "June is when we usually hold the festival, so we wanted to do something at this time. Keeping this date in the cultural calendar was important to us but it felt too early to be planning the kind of outdoor works we usually hold. But we didn't want to lose the live part of the festival, outdoor work and live engagement with our audiences is so important, which is why we are planning for a live programme in the autumn."
In line with the aim of encouraging wider audiences, organisers have ensured that most of the digital events are free. "We have some really exciting content and want to show it to the world," says Lucie. "We want this to be a celebration available to the widest public possible because it's really important for the recovery of the arts and giving the artists a place for their creativity."
Creating an online festival posed lots of new questions for the team who curate BIDF. "We have thought a lot about, for example, what is the right length of the pieces for the digital space and how long they should stay available - we were asking ourselves, is it one-off, does it stay on demand, how long does it stay on demand?" Lucie says.
And she adds: "We also had lots of discussions about giving the audience the space to explore the on-demand programme on their own and at their own pace alongside some live streams which are at a set time and one special occasion. So BIDF offers a range of experiences for people to pick and choose. It's not just about sitting and watching a screen for hours on end. For example, the children's shows Sunny Days and Insect Hands have activities which you can do outdoors after you have watched it online."
It has taken months of planning, including plenty of revisions along the way, but the festival organisers are looking forward to finally sharing the performances, workshops and discussions with audiences. "Now that it has all come together and we can see the whole programme it's very exciting," says Lucie. "We've been creating BIDF now for many years but never before just for an online space so there has been a lot of learning for the whole team. But now is the perfect time. There is a real sense of re-opening and being excited about the arts again and about the very vibrant experience of a festival. It is about audiences being engaged in the arts and experiencing the great variety of films and stories by artists from all over the world. They can also participate in some of the engaging workshops. It's about bringing the excitement back of us all being in the same space to see and do dance together."
Now BIDF has pushed the frontiers in terms of its digital programming, Lucie believes the festival will continue to develop its online offer. "I think digital will remain as an integral part and will be developed for future festivals," Lucie says. "It has so many advantages and opportunities that we will look to commission and programme artists for digital work in the future. But we also need to ensure we blend it with the hugely popular outdoors and indoors programme. Going forward we should be able to blend them both to ensure festivals which are accessible to as many people as possible."
BIDF is produced by DanceXchange and supported by Arts Council England, Birmingham City Council and Dance Hub Birmingham. For the full June, programme click on https://bidf.co.uk/