From its earliest beginnings, when silent monochrome images flickered into life and enchanted audiences with the magic of the screen, film has been fascinated by movement and the body. Before film ever brought us to places unseen or thrilled us with terrifying adventures, it was the simple depiction of human movement that first captivated its audiences.

In 1885, Louis Lumière’s first film captured the movement of workers exiting through a factory gate and that same year Thomas Edison’s film Butterfly Dance showcased American dancer Annabelle Moore using the 35mm film format that would prevail to the present day.

Even when film embraced the dramatic possibilities of the theatre and started telling its own stories, the body and movement continued to play a central role. From the physicality of the war movie to the seduction of the romance film, the body’s capacity to express pain and joy has always been central to film’s vitality. And let’s not forget the incredible popularity of the musical, which from Fred Astaire to La La Land, has for many decades continued to fill movie theatres with the delights of song and dance. 

Outside the world of film, visual artists and dance choreographers have embraced the screen as a vital setting for their work, a means by which performances can sail beyond the island of the stage and travel to screens in homes and galleries across the globe. Even popular music has been revolutionised by the screen, and in a post-MTV world, it is impossible to imagine the hit without the music video, with its snapshots of limbs moving and bodies pulsing to the beat. 

It is this magnetism of the moving body on screen that has drawn artists working in film, dance and performance to gravitate toward the field known as ‘screendance’. Though some might argue that a term like ‘dance film’ is more readily understood, ‘screendance’ embraces not only film but the many new ways in which we consume the moving image in our digital world and is now widely used.

Screendance has seen an explosion of interest in the past three decades with dedicated festivals being established across each continent. Commissioning initiatives have also played an important role with BBC’s ‘Dance for the Camera’ series from 1994 and RTÉ’s ‘Dance on the Box’ from 2006 widely hailed as the starting blocks for many directors and choreographers to discover the screen’s potential as a stage for movement and performance. 

In 2014 Light Moves Festival of Screendance was launched in Limerick to become Ireland’s first festival dedicated to this field. Initiated by myself and dance artist and filmmaker Mary Wycherley, the festival brought together some of the unique strengths of the city including the then newly established Dance Limerick and the support of the Digital Media and Arts Research Centre at the University of Limerick.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has been embraced by many of the city’s cultural resources with workshops at the University, screenings at Dance Limerick and feature films at The Belltable. Past festival guests have reflected the diversity of the field and have included choreographers and performance artists such as Siobhan Davies, Jonathan Burrows and Nigel Rolfe.

Somewhat uniquely for a festival of this kind, works emanating from the visual arts play a central role and previous years have included artists Tacita Dean, Mathew Barney and Shirin Neshat. This year Light Moves has curated a two-month exhibition in collaboration with Limerick City Gallery of Art with seven works that include artists Cindy Sherman, Harun Farocki and a significant collaboration between French choreographer Boris Charmatz and Dutch artist Aernout Mik. 

As Ireland’s only festival of screendance, Light Moves places a particular emphasis on developing and supporting Irish work with numerous workshops and talks featured. Irish artists have also played a major role in the festival’s programming and this year is no exception: Irish choreographers and artists include David Bolger, Amanda Coogan, Ríonach Ní Néill, Mary Nunan, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Áine Stapleton, Maria Nilsson Waller and Irish composers Jonathan Nangle and Neil O’Connor. 

Light Moves Festival runs from November 2 to 5 and in LCGA Gallery until January 15. For more information and bookings visit lightmoves.ie.