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Manuela Dalle, Dancing in A-Yard, 2023, 72 mins

Manuela Dalle, Dancing in A-Yard, 2023, 72 mins. Film Still.

Manuela Dalle, Dancing in A-Yard, 2023, 72 mins

In male prisons ruled by toxic masculinity, dancing is not a consideration. Yet, in the A-Yard at Lancaster State Prison ten young men are trying to break this taboo by inviting French choreographer, Dimitri Chamblas, to lead a contemporary dance class. This ongoing program, initiated in partnership with CalArts prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, signals a step towards rehabilitation and gives participants both hope for the future and a chance to redefine their prison culture.

Dancing in A-Yard draws attention to Los Angeles County Prison’s progressive A-Yard as a small example of success within the California prison system (CDCR). The film deconstructs preconceived ideas surrounding prison and incarceration by exploring the spectrum of the participants’ masculinity and their collective desire for transformation both individually and as a community.

Following the screening filmmaker Manuela Dalle joins Dimitri Chamblas; Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, director of Cal State LA’s Prison Graduation Initiative; and Dimitri De’Von, a formerly incarcerated man and one of the film’s participants, for a conversation about the film and its themes.

Over the course of his career, Dimitri Chamblas has collaborated with William Forsythe, Benjamin Millepied, Mathilde Monnier, and Boris Charmatz. With Charmatz, together, they created À bras-le-corps, a duo which entered the Paris Opéra ballet repertory in 2018. Artistic director of the 3e Scene - Opéra National de Paris, he then settled in Los Angeles, where he joined California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) as Dean of the School of Dance, where he continues to teach. His recent projects include a duet with artist Kim Gordon; Slow Show, a fifty performer show that creates ephemeral communities in each city in which it is presented; the direction of Crowd Out, an opera for 1,000 voices by David Lang; and diverse partnerships with the aim of bringing dance to inmates inside prisons. His work has been presented at the Tate Modern, London’ the Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Opéra National de Paris; Performa, New York; and the Louvre Museum, Paris, among other venues. Chamblas is currently creating, in collaboration with Kim Gordon, a piece for nine dancers, and is pursuing his university research on experimental pedagogies.

Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy is the director of Cal State LA's Prison Graduation Initiative, the first face-to-face BA degree program in the state of California. He is also the founder of WordsUncaged, a platform for incarcerated artists and writers to engage with the public, through book publishing, art exhibits, and digital media. WordsUncaged currently has programs in six prisons across California and one on death-row in Texas, serving over 2500 incarcerated men and women since 2013.

Manuela Dalle is a director and a sociologist. She began her career making films for the legendary documentary Belgium TV show Strip Tease. She has made numerous feature length documentaries about contemporary artists for the esteemed french/german TV Arte. At the same time, she has continued to develop her work as a videographer with more experimental films. She is currently working on multiple projects in the art world. Her last film was a collaboration with the iconic singer and artist Kim Gordon.

No stranger to rock bottom, at the age of 23, Dimitri De’von formally known as Buddha decided to equip himself with knowledge of how to respond to the low blows that life had delivered from an early age. From homeless to incarceration and now released after serving ten and a half years on a life sentence, he has found creative ways to help others respond to life’s tragedies as a creative writer and as a youth mentor dealing with post traumatic stress. Dancing in A-Yard is a co-created project and one of the many projects where we works to guide others towards breaking toxic ideologies.