The annual public programming is traditionally held in parks, plazas, libraries, schools and theaters throughout the various home neighborhoods of participating companies, but the festival has responded to quarantine restrictions by embracing a silver-lining approach to productions.
"A feeling of connection and creativity is especially important during this time," says Karesia Batan, director of QDF. "It was important to us that we find a way to still serve our community, by staying engaged with our Queens dancers and audiences.”
Every week, viewers can tune in on the festival’s Instagram account (@queensborodancefestival) to interact with the 24 dance companies representing 12 neighborhoods featured in this season’s lineup.
Each company will hold a three-day spotlight, culminating in an Instagram LIVE experience that includes online performance previews, Q&A sessions with choreographers, and dance classes.
Founded in 2014 and produced by The Physical Plant, QDF aims to provide access to diverse cultures and dance techniques to communities all over the borough.
This year’s festival reflects an assortment of styles such as Latin ballroom, tap, ballet, Cumbia, West African, modern, Chinese, Indian, hip-hop, Mexican, Bangladeshi, Arabic bellydance, flamenco, jazz, Greek and Hawaiian.
Choreographers and dancers had to get creative when it came to adapting their pieces to the COVID-19 environment, holding rehearsals via Zoom and navigating the visuals of performances without being able to physically stage them.
Many of the central themes to the dances that will be featured, though they were created before the pandemic, resonate even more deeply during this time.
For example, a piece called “COLLECTIVE BREATHING,” choreographed by LIC’s Sheep Meadow Dance Theatre director Billy Blanken, is centered on the concept of taking time out for oneself in times of duress. Blanken has since dedicated the performance to first responders and essential workers.
Another piece from Astoria’s NK&D/a movement company explores the ideas of displacement and loss. “Scattered Pieces” illustrates the ways in which we navigate loss and change.
“These ideas can be as simple as when you lost your favorite childhood toy or broke that nicknack and couldn’t glue it back together right,” explained choreographer Nicole Kadar. “Or they can be complex, such as COVID-19 or the political system.”
“Perhaps something new emerges,” she continued. “Through relationships with the people in our community, we can find comfort and strength and move forward with compassion.”
When it comes to supporting the dance community, QDF understands the importance of keeping dancers connected and inspired.
In addition to posting Dance Artist Relief Resources on its website, the festival has also transitioned its professional development workshops in grant writing, marketing and tax business, as well as its master dance classes, online.
“We felt that continuing our programming during COVID, even if it had to move online, was important to support our dancers in feeling engaged with their artist community and their audiences,” explained Batan. “We wanted to find ways to keep them dancing and creating toward sharing it with others.”