On the Boards’ Northwest New Works Festival Spotlight: Dance Filmmaker Kiana Harris

Get to know this emerging artist who presents her new dance film, “Rivers of Nine,” at On the Boards’ 35th annual festival highlighting new and experimental work
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“I rarely have been interested in creating work onstage,” says dance filmmaker Kiana Harris; “I knew I wanted to continue with dance but craved a new artistic medium.” For this Cornish College alumnus and Anchorage native, that meant moving from live performance to film. Her latest, “Rivers of Nine,” the third in her AJE IJO series of shorts, will premiere Saturday at On the Boards’ Northwest New Works festival. 

In a recent e-mail Q&A, Harris mentioned that her first inspiration was music, specifically music videos: “Since I was a child, around 12 years old, I can remember walking home from school with my headphones wrapped around my head, listening to TLC’s FanMail album.  I would imagine dancing in a video to their songs and composing visuals in my head, like a music video. I practiced this skill all the time, as music was a driving force to creating images. At the time, I didn't see it as a skill. Little did I know that skill would help me create films.”

The art form’s permanence, as opposed to the ephemerality of performance, was a draw: “I’ve danced over a decade and don't have much to show for it,” Harris says. “Film is more tangible and a longer-lasting memory that most folks can access. I love the feeling of creating my work, then sitting and enjoying what I worked hard on, as well as taking in how others interpreted my work. I'm really drawn to the editing process. Evoking emotions in my edits are some of my favorite things to figure out.”

Though this process would seem to enable a more meticulous level of control, Harris never forgets the importance of collaboration and the vitality of spontaneity: “I'm interested in working with folxs who bring their own organic movements and a range of different styles of dance. I don't ever want to dictate what a dancer does and how they move. I will help to guide and facilitate, but not with detailed choreography. The majority of what you see from the movers on film is improvisation dance. It’s their own movements that are captured on film [which] later I edit into a story. The movers, cinematographers, and I all have a part in creating/telling the story.”

Like “Rivers of Nine,” the first two chapters of AJE IJO—“Unconscious Womb” (shown at On the Boards in March) and “7 Reflections” (premiered last November at the ACES: Artists of Color Expo & Symposium)—were filmed in June 2017, on a wooded riverbank, embracing land, water, sky and cool greenery. As Harris puts it in her artist statement, her series “centers the humanity, resiliency, vulnerability of black & African diasporic people . . . Our individual and collective complexity, survival, thriving, and ultimately our healing as a people are at stake,” and the outdoor setting ties in both technically and emotionally to these themes. “I adore lighting black folxs in natural light and witnessing connection to the earth,” she says. “There’s a lot of healing in just that!”

Though Harris came to film recently, her work has already been screened at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and the 1 Reel Film Festival at Bumbershoot in addition to ACES. And this success and attention are only the beginning: “There are so many layers to film—so many things to figure out, Harris says. “It’s fun and exciting learning in my two years a new artistic medium, and I can’t wait to see where I go with this five years from now.”

“Rivers of Nine” screens 8 p.m. Sat., June 9 and Sun., June 10 at the Northwest New Works festival at On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., ontheboards.org. The festival runs June 8–10 & 15–17. $16.

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