Interview: Jacques Batista talks about his dance film, And Not A Word Was Spoken: What would a relationship sound like if we turned down the volume?

What: And Not A Word Was Spoken- dance film-2022 National Arts Festival [NAF] on NAF Online

Dancers: Leilah Kirsten and Richard-Dean Sumares Director: Jacques Batista

When: June 23, 2022 00:00 to July 03, 2022 23:59
Direct booking link:  
Duration: 38 minutes
NAF 2022 programme:

#NAFOnline #NAF2022 #AndNotAWordWasSpoken  

For production credits, see:  

Jacques Batista’s And Not A Word Was Spoken, a screendance film, is premiering at 2022 NAF Online (National Arts Festival, Makhanda, June 23 to July 3, 2022). The film grapples with how relationships have become impacted by the strictures of the pandemic and how the pandemic has continued to heighten fractures and ruptures. In the film, it is posed: “What would a relationship sound like if we turned down the vocal volume?” Take away the noise and if not a word is spoken, what do we have? How are we communicating – or not – now? Batista in conversation with TheCapeRobyn:

The process of making the film

In And Not A Word Was Spoken, you challenge “notions of dance and acting” and explore “the nature of relationships in light of the pandemic and what might happen subsequently to people and the spaces they cohabit.” The two performers (Leilah Kirsten and Richard-Dean Sumares), live in Cape Town. You live in Gqeberha. Did you work in your own spaces and on Zoom? Jacques Batista: “The process involved using Zoom as rehearsal space but filming happened physically in Cape Town. However, there is a scene in which the performers are using their cell phones to do the recording of footage from one of our online sessions. In the background you can see the laptop with my face on it as we were working on the task underpinning the scene. This speaks back to the idea of rejecting traditional filmmaking techniques, utilising New Media and the idea of capturing the self in a space which the characters cohabit but highlights their remoteness from each other despite sharing the same physical space. The filmmaking process is a hybrid format exploring the self-capturing the self and others and the role of the camera co-creating the narrative as participant and viewer. It is quite a while into the film before we see anything that we would define as dance. So, with the genre of screendance in mind, it challenges what is dance and perhaps how the film negotiates the idea with stretches of no dance. Those moments are filled with non-verbal communication and actions. Because Leilah and Richard-Dean have, on occasion, engaged in shared practice facilitating a range of movement, they worked together in the same space during our rehearsals. During the hard lockdowns there was much public concern for individuals locked in their homes – alone. Others focused attention on the impact the lockdowns were having on relationships. This is where my film’s attention rests. Although the loneliness or aloneness of singles in lockdown cannot be underplayed, the toll that the lockdowns had on relationships was insurmountable. My film, largely, is a response to how people, who share a relationship, cohabit a space. What would a relationship sound like if we turned down the vocal volume?”

Screendance – a platform for disseminating dance beyond the stage

Can you talk about the medium of the screendance – as opposed to simply filming a dance piece for archival purposes? Jacques Batista: “Screendance has been described as more than a platform for disseminating dance beyond the stage. The relationship between screen and dance has been investigated for a number of decades but with the advent of New Media, this relationship has seen the genre take new shape. Since screendance, as a genre, is more than a stage work recorded for screen, it is an art form in its own right with characteristics that define it. We used Zoom as a New Media tool to replace the physical studio due to geographical limitations.”

The human body moving a narrative – telling its stories – in any way possible

Before the advent of the pandemic, had you worked with screen dance or was your embracing of screen dance, a result of not being able to perform to audiences and that you had to consider the screen as stage and medium? Jacques Batista: “I’ve had an interest in screendance since my undergraduate years at Rhodes University where we were exposed to many companies who reformatted stage works for the screen. At this time First Physical transferred Bessie’s Head onto camera which had a huge impact on how I viewed the interdisciplinary possibilities of intersecting art forms. In my final year, I did a research project on Steven Cohen with his live art captured on film – VHS– which further cemented my interest. However, the bug only bit just before the pandemic when I created my YouTube channel in March 2020 to audition for a dance festival which was cancelled that year due to the pandemic. The YouTube channel was a convenient way of creating the audition but also serves as an archive for experiments in filming movement. Because live theatre was limited and in most situations, prohibited from happening during hard lockdowns, the screen became a new canvas for me to express. As a result, I (re)discovered just how much I love movement. My work is not about performing live or making film, but rather the human body moving a narrative – telling its stories – in any way possible. Watching how beautifully choreography can be captured for the screen when we filmed, As If The Rain Watched Over Her, I was inspired to create a text that was completely based on movement.”

The setting –intimacy of home- domestic domicile

Where is the film set in terms of pace? Jacques Batista: “The setting for And Not A Word Was Spoken, is a domestic context with the mise en scène not only representative of place, but is one of the performer’s domicile; it evokes an intimacy of the home that extends the characters’ internal landscapes. Often, dance is placed in abstracted settings/landscapes that are more metaphorical. And Not A Word Was Spoken taps into the genre of presenting abstracted movement in a Realist style of performance. The characters’ psychology were developed in relation to the movement language. Instead of the movement language – dance style(s) with set rules – being placed in the space, with this film, the space informed the movement within the framework of the research topic. Following sessions/rehearsals on Zoom when we developed the characters, narrative and physical vocabulary, I flew to Cape Town where I filmed the work over three days. Back in Gqeberha, I worked on the post production – editing and colour grading. Unlike my previous projects for which the music was composed early in the conceptualisation stage, the score was created for the edited film by Kendal Beadon who contributed music to As If The Rain Watched Over Her.”

Independent project

As If The Rain Watched Over Her received an Ovation Award at NAF 2021 and it starred students from Collegiate. It was a school production and an extraordinary one. And Not A Word Was Spoken is not a school production. It is a two hander? Jacques Batista: “Yes, the film is a two-hander. Both performers – Leilah and Richard-Dean are well-established movement practices in Cape Town and work across a range of styles and areas of specialisation. Leilah has a strong contemporary dance background having been through the Jazzart stream, while Richard-Dean has experience in mixed martial arts forms – both do yoga. My background is across acting/movement with contemporary dance. My view of dance is as movement – each body has its own rules. I invite the body’s uniqueness to infuse the work rather than expect a set of conditioning rules to dictate the limits of creativity. In the film, the absence of other people heightens the context of the isolation the characters experience when everyone (else) is “locked out/in”. This film was conceptualised the same time I was producing a film for my school. On the last day of the shoot, I left Willowmore, where we were filming in the dusty, locust-ridden Karoo, got on the plane to Cape Town and the next day I was on location filming with Leilah and Richard-Dean. It is the first time in a very long time that I created something for and by myself without it being for the school, another production company or a full collaboration. It was a wonderful experience working with Kendal again. Because we are out of lockdowns, I could go to his studio where he had the film open on the monitor playing guitar, sharing his ideas.”

French New Wave style

In And Not A Word Was Spoken, the choreographic language “blends everyday activities with an emotional landscape that manifests through the movement sequences in confined and open spaces.” Can you talk about that and the French New Wave style of filming that combines a variety of camera work to capture the story? Jacques Batista: Often there is a misconception that dance is exclusively for bodies trained in particular styles or forms of conditioning – that somehow they should be able to do what others can’t. Movement is the most fundamental of human experience, we all move – movement makes the universe what it is! For this reason, the most basic of home activities such as making a cup of coffee, doing dishes and working in the garden are incorporated into communicating the struggling relationship between the two characters. This intimacy is blended with movement sequences on the domestic stage that speaks back to the emergence of people dancing in their living spaces during lockdowns, posting it on social media, presenting an emotional attachment to home space as a reaction to the effect the pandemic was having on live performance. Already before the pandemic people were dancing in videos on Tik Tok, Instagram and other New Media, but we now have a different relationship with the screen. Some of this is reflected in And Not A Word Was Spoken. Using the French New Wave style came about because I wanted to create a film that wasn’t ‘pretty’ in its execution – I wanted rough edges, subjects off balance and ‘accidents’ that imposed in the moment – to stand in contrast to As I The Rain Watched Over Her. Soon after editing started, I showed Jacques Cloete (creative collaborator on As If The Rain Watched Over Her) a short clip of the opening scene. He remarked it looked like French New Wave which I then investigated. It is a style which rejects traditional ideas of filmmaking for a more avant-garde, experimental style. Long tracking shots are a feature of the French New Wave style which I used in this film to contrast with edgy, quick shots.”

Masters in screendance

You are currently doing your MA at Rhodes Uni and also teaching at Collegiate Girls’ High School in Gqeberha]. Is And Not A Word Was Spoken- part of your practical work for your MA? Jacques Batista: “In addition to teaching fulltime at Collegiate Girls’ High School, I am enrolled in doing an MA in Drama with a focus on screendance at Rhodes University and working towards qualifying as a CMA (Certified Movement Analyst) with the Laban Institute for Movement Studies (New York) through their hybrid New Pathways course for which certain contact sessions are hosted at the University of Pretoria. And Not A Word Was Spoken was created in part to explore research points for the MA but also a practical opportunity to put into practice much of what I’ve learnt on the CMA course by applying Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals. Although the film is not a prescribed component of the MA, it forms part of my practice as research which brings together the varied aspects of what I do – theatre-making, acting, dance, movement, film and pedagogy – into a single creative expression. As an educator, I understand the importance of remaining academically involved in my subject. Being engaged in postgraduate studies is an effective way to fine tune creative practice, come up to speed with the latest developments in the field while investing back into my craft/art. The idea is to expand the research topics in this film into other projects to look at how screendance can be used within particular frameworks of investigation.” 

Tense and tension: In filming And Not A Word Was Spoken, Jacques Batista’s filmmaking process involved the French New Wave style, “a hybrid format exploring the self-capturing the self and others and the role of the camera co-creating the narrative as participant and viewer.” Still supplied. The film is screening at NAF online – June 23 to July 3, 2022. Booking link:  

✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn:

Preview: And Not A Word Was Spoken [NAF 2022]:

Review: As If The Rain Watched Over Her [NAF 2021]:

Award announcement As If The Rain Watched Over Her [NAF 2021]