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Elemental Body: A Dance Film Journey

Sydney Swanson poses in an expressive dance pose in a sunlit forest.
Photo by Dahli Durley

Sydney Swanson, a dancer and choreographer based in Rochester, MN, recently completed an ambitious new dance film project titled “Elemental Body” with funding from a SEMAC grant. This 12-minute site-specific piece allowed Sydney to build upon her previous experience in dance film while pushing her artistic boundaries.

As the sole performer, Sydney choreographed, directed, and edited “Elemental Body” with the goal of exploring West African spiritual practices centered around the elements of earth, water, fire, nature, and mineral. While much of her prior dance films utilized improvisational work captured on a phone camera, this project required much more extensive planning and coordination.

Filming took place at different sites within the beautiful Quarry Hill Park in Rochester, with Sydney’s younger brother, Bradey Swanson, acting as videographer. Despite challenges like chilly weather, the sibling team’s dedication paid off, including her brother donning waders to capture footage in a stream. Sydney also hired Joni Griffith, a Minneapolis-based singer, multi-instrumentalist, movement artist and sound designer to bring her full vision to life.

The SEMAC grant funding proved invaluable, providing the time, space and resources to create “Elemental Body.” This is Sydney’s second SEMAC grant for a dance film project, which she credits with furthering her skills, artistic career, and recently helping her secure a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.  

Sharing the film with audiences has been both a vulnerable and exciting experience for the choreographer. “One of my favorite parts of the process is hearing feedback from audience members after they view my film. It’s both nerve-wracking and thrilling to share art with an audience and hear how they related to it or didn’t. I find I learn more about the subtleties and synchronicities of my work when I hear what others saw in it…the observations come from this really human experience place,” Swanson remarks. Audience feedback revealed how they related to the “micro-macro, earth/human bodies, nature via layers/time/elements/connection” depicted in the film’s outdoor settings. Comments praised the “fresh and new” perspective on familiar nature paths and the desire to “dance for her and with her!”

Sydney Swanson presents her film "Elemental Body" in front of an audience with a projector screen behind her.
Photo by TLP Photography

Thanks to her Minnesota State Arts Board grant, Sydney will showcase “Elemental Body” in a series of six dance film screening events around southeastern Minnesota from September 2024 through February 2025. The screenings will feature other Minnesota-based dance artists alongside her work at venues like Rochester’s Pop’s Art Theater and the Winona Art Center.

For more information on Sydney and her future screenings and initiatives, visit her website, or find her on Facebook at Insite Arts & Healing.