For more than two years now, we, the humans all across the planet, have been living in times and circumstances of a pandemic. Covid-19 emerged and began to alternate desperate waves of morbidity and mortality with calm periods of longing for air . Where we are now and what lies ahead – we will all find out together, because the global pandemic is universal and shared. No one is completely protected. It is everywhere, and it is a conflict that balances humanity. We all experienced months of isolation, learned new rules and sought solutions collectively. We wasted time fighting for our own health; we lost loved ones; we also lost the possibility of intimacy; for a hug without worry and a kiss without fear. But in the shared pain and empathized trauma, we found a strong longing for togetherness and desire to cry out loud that life will go on; that art will endure; that human imagination is inspired, and that the dance is just beginning!

Sue Healy’s screendance project Circumstance 2020 emerged as such a response to Covid-19. Sue Healy is a director, choreographer, and artist from Australia. She’s been living in Sydney, but her creative calling- across a wide range of forms and fields, including screendance, performing arts, and installation – takes her to various parts of the world – Japan, Hong Kong, and more. Although always on the move, to my delight, she took the time to answer my questions. Our email correspondence enriches this text, as it intertwines her shared thoughts on Circumstance 2020 and the time we all live in.

Still from Circumstance 2020, concept by Sue Healy 

Screendance is a form that Sue Healy has come to know and has worked with for many years. The potential of the camera’s eye is huge. It unfolds, liberates and transforms the space. This serves as a counterpoint to the theater venue, which is enclosed and limited, hiding distinct possibilities for a live experience. The camera has its own unique magic, offering every artist new paths for experimentation. The close-up is also important for Sue – the emotion of the human face, accessible in a fantastic way through the tools of camera and screen. Her look at choreography in dance films is also specific, it is possible through the body and the moving person, but also through editing techniques. Sue studies screendance in practice and theory through her own professional journey, reaching useful reflections on the capacity of the artistic field. We would find part of them in her book, CAPTURING THE VANISHING: A CHOREOGRAPHER AND FILM, commenting on the ephemerality of dance in its live manifestations, as well as the options for archiving and analyzing it when existing in video format. One of the many evidences of Sue Healy’s creative practice is the focus of the article: the film Circumstance 2020.

Searching how to continue working, even in conditions of necessary social distancing, sitting on a cliff overlooking Sydney’s magnificent Coogee Beach, Sue realizes she has the methodology to overcome this issue. This is how the idea of ​​a dance film was born, shot mostly with a drone camera, allowing distances between dancers and crew. The director shares that she notices how many of her colleagues immediately chose the camera and digital means as an obvious temporary solution to the problem of proximity to collaborators and audiences. She also believes that even a bolder step forward is possible – expanding and testing the limits of video formats through a project like Circumstance 2020, for example. The creative look at the digital becomes an active commentary on the strange Covid-19 time. The name of the screendance project is also indicative, signifying a circumstance and directing our attention to the lack of, or the impossibility for absolute control, and points out the need for adaptive skills – characteristics of human existence.

Healy finds two locations for her project, with fresh air and proportions large enough to adjust to the current security regulations. The first one is an abandoned tank and the second – an old quarry. Both have a raw look and are singled out by hard textures, concrete, and stone – all these are very suitable for Sue’s choreography for 27 dancers. The expression ‘between a rock and a hard place’ becomes a working title because of the chosen spaces and the pandemic situation with an unclear outcome.

Along with the already mentioned 27 dancers, Sue works also with composer Fiona Hill and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to create a final symbiotic screendance piece. The collaborations are made possible by a Covid-19 scheme, implemented by the government and targeted specifically at artists. This is an advantage for Sue, as her vision for the film requires a large cast and an ambitious scale.

Still from Circumstance 2020, concept by Sue Healy 

In this period, in many other countries, as well as in Australia, people who are involved in dance and movement are forced to practice at home, learn choreographies and rehearse through digital platforms. So for Sue and her dancers, it is a wonderful exception to meet again in person and work on a project that does not endanger their health, while at the same time gives them the opportunity for a real creative process.

A noticeable and memorable part of Circumstance 2020 are the colorful highlights – glowing orange masks, sticks, and circles on which the dancers move. All three elements are already visual motifs of the pandemic, universally close and recognizable. Masks – as protective walls between man and the world. The circle – like a personal space in which everyone can quarantine and preserve their body. The sticks – as a measure of distances between us and a reminder of the new rules. Sue shares that their meaning has gone beyond the original intention of the art work – they are not only symbols of division, but also a strong and vivid choreographic tool, provoking the dancers to improvise and search for original movement ideas.

Besides being a direct response to the pandemic, the dance film is also an invitation to reflect on the relationships between man, the human body, nature, landscape, and the care for the earth. The environmental themes are essential to Sue’s work. According to her, the present moment is key, even crucial for posing the question of the future of our planet. The climate crisis is already a painful reality and there is no time to lose. Through her art, Sue intends to continue to focus the attention precisely on these pressing and dangerous conflicts, and ask why and how we inhabit our great home – the planet.

Rich and meaningful in its messages, Circumstance 2020 is also an aesthetically bold creative project that interweaves the drama of nature’s scale with the drama of the human face. It is cathartic with its music, and spinning, as if driven along with the wind. At times, it’s like a game in which human beings are miniatures, but capable of collectively creating captivating magic. This aesthetic is also made possible by the tangible technical precision with which Circumstance 2020 was realized. On one hand, through cinematography and editing; and on the other – thanks to the excellently trained dancers involved in the project.

In our correspondence Sue shared that the drone is a true gift for her as a filmmaker, because it has a unique mobility and versatility in capturing spaces and moving bodies. The camera is capable of creating choreography and this approach is visible in the film. Perhaps even for the untrained eye, because the art work immediately carries a stormy emotional charge on an instinctive level. The drone camera gives a visceral feeling and captivates the viewer’s senses. It is both all-embracing and able to get close to the ‘characters’. The dancers do not touch each other, but achieve closeness and rhythm thanks to the intimate gaze of the drone.

This is not Sue’s first experiment with this technology and she enthusiastically tells that she was prepared for shooting days of adrenaline and challenges, for the impact of the immense natural beauty, and for the achievement of good results. Together with her artistic collaborator, Ken Booty, Healy unleashes the potential of the camera. Ken creates a special sensitive drone that can also be used in indoor spaces, close to the dancers. It can even ‘land’ on them, ‘chase’ them, or they can ‘chase’ it. In turn, Sue discovers new options for choreography with an active camera that is much more than a neutral observer of the action. With Circumstance 2020 and the process of its creation, she directs our thoughts to the human dancer as resilient, adaptable, strong, and resourceful, even when faced with harsh realities.

My last question to the impressive personality of the Australian director was ‘’And now where to?”, as it is exciting what is next for an artist with a long and successful career, open to new experiments and untrodden creative paths. More adventures are ahead for Sue Healy. She is currently working on a new project – LIVE ACTION RELAY. In her words – strange times call for strange practices. Her new project combines cinema, dance, and live experience, promising unusual sensations for our perceptions.  It is a live performance captured by a drone and three cameras on the ground, edited at the moment of happening and broadcast live within a digital festival. Definitely complex, challenging, and intriguing! Surely, Sue’s creations will continue to challenge the viewers. Circumstance 2020 will likely be experienced at an upcoming festival, and online in the future. It is worth it, because it is a screendance project, non-verbally communicating the universal language of movement, and telling us the story we are still living and writing together through dance.  It is an important confirmation for the hunger for art and connection, and at the same time a warning that the future will overtake us and we must be ready!

The article is translated by Miryana Mezeklieva

Ana-Maria Sotirova graduated with a degree in “Film” at the University of Reading, as well as a master’s degree in “Film Studies” at the University of Amsterdam. She is the author of articles in the “Translation on Air” column, part of the activities of the “Moving Body” platform.

Miryana Mezeklieva (1987) graduated in Cultural Studies at Sofia University Kliment Ohridski. Since 2008 until today she has been working as a translator of feature films and series for dubbing mainly for the channels of Nova Broadcasting Group.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a rubric dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite professional and amateur audiences, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active choreographers in the field from the country and abroad.

The project “Translation on air” is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund “Culture” under the program “Audiences” 2020 and “One-Year Grant” 2021

Videography and bibliography:

Short film Circumstance 2020

Interview with Sue Healy,, Australia Council for the Arts