The Venice Dance Biennale founded in 1999, aka the “International Festival of Contemporary Dance”; is one of Venice’s main cultural events. 

In 2021, the 15th International Festival of Contemporary Dance, was directed by Wayne McGregor, in the first year of his four year appointment. Running from the 23rd July to the 1st August 2021, the program featured 10 days of events; with over 100 artists; all Italian premieres, two World premieres and one European premiere.  McGregor, emphasised the close collaboration and evolving partnership with the Architecture Biennale.




The 15th International Festival of Contemporary Dance – “First Sense

The 15th International Festival of Contemporary Dance ran from 23 July to 1 August 2021 and was directed by Wayne McGregor; in the first year of his appointment. Stating that “everything that can be done with dance and through dance today“; his intention was to illuminate the complexity, the breadth, the transformability of a discipline, that thrives on renewal and which in its dialogue with the most cutting-edge thinking, advances the development of contemporary art.

Wayne McGregor CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) is a British choreographer and director, whose work encompasses a variety of genres including technology, visual art, film, opera and education. His productions featured in the repertories of companies around the world; including Paris Opéra, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, New York City Ballet and many others.

The program featured daily events with soloists and international companies, as well as the activities of the Biennale College Danza; dedicated to specific training projects that were included in the Festival’s program.

First Senseaspired to touch you, move you, both emotionally and physically – not only in its live performance and installation program; but in public and professional workshops, artist talks and in its film series. Special guest photographer, Mary McCartney, was in residence; capturing the fleeting moments of “touch experiences, interactions, concentrations and joys”. Her work will be exhibited at the next Biennale Danze, in 2022.

The program of the Biennale Danza 2021 was divided into the following aspects: 

  •  live performances with choreographers and companies from around the world
  • multilingual installations
  • new energy of the Biennale College – dancers/choreographers
  •  a rich production of films about and featuring dance
  • collaborations among the disciplines within La Biennale itself
  • conversations with the artists and the commissions for new dance 
  • 10 days of events with over 100 artists, all Italian premieres, two World premieres and one European premiere.

Note: See end of post, for a Pdf copy of the actual program and a link to the official website pages of the Biennale Danza 2021.  

Locations. The events were staged mostly in the Arsenale (sala and theatres), with some scheduled in the Giardini, Ca’ Giustinian and the Teatro Malibran.


  • Future Self” – Ca’ Giustinian
  • Not Once” – Sala d’Armi E
  • Tom” – Teatro alle Tese (II)
  • Among diverse beings” – Solo Dancers/Choreographers –  Arsenale / Giardini.

Film Screenings – Teatro Piccolo Arsenale.




Wayne McGregor, reminded us of the importance of “touch” in his program for the 2021 Biennale Danza.

In 2021, more than a year into the pandemic, in a time of social distancing and enforced restrictions; he powerfully reminded us of the critical importance of “touch” in all our lives. Touch, a fundamental sense we take for granted, has been challenged and compromised. It has taken on a new resonance in our societies and to us all.

Because we have been unable to hold and embrace our loved one’s or friends, we have missed the powerful inter-relationships, that are formed by close contact. The result is a deep and profound loss to our physical, mental and emotional well-being.

During this period, we have replaced this personal contact with the remote interaction of computer and phone communications. McGregor’s contention, is that we are desperate to re-connect to the world through and with our bodies and we are ready to be exhilarated; by a return to our fullest embodied existence.

Dance, the greatest of “First Touch” art forms, through McGregor’s direction; was poised to inspire such a spectacular revival. His program, celebrated the diversity and dynamism of many exceptional artistic voices that express their truths; through the breath-taking instrument of the human form.


Two relevant and supportive quotes were made by:

Matthew Fulkerson – “It is through touch that we are able to interact directly with the world; it is our primary conduit of both pleasure and pain. Touch may be our most immediate and powerful sense – “the first sense” because of the central role it plays in experience”.

Susan Sontag – “The longing to touch/be touched. I feel gratitude when I touch someone-as well as affection etc. The person has allowed me proof that I have a body- and that there are bodies in the world




The Awards Ceremony took place in the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale on Saturday 24th July.

Germaine Acogny, was the winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. A pioneer of contemporary African dance, she presented “Somewhere at the Beginning” – a solo in which she comes to terms with her own past; the roots that are the starting points for our entire lives, embodied in the archaic figures that accompany her.

Having left Africa, lived in exile in Europe and then returned to her native land, Acogny’s work, is also a dialogue between the West and the African continent; about the search for identity, that is never something granted or acquired.

Oona Doherty, a new name in European dance and the Silver Lion recipient of this year’s Festival; brought to Venice “Hard to be Soft – A Belfast Prayer” – a dance that was informal in its themes and its modes. She chose to portray the cross-section of a community –  her childhood community in Belfast, with its horizons limited by cultural, social and religious constraints. Doherty captured the daily-life dimension of the working classes, which are virtually absent from the dance stage; their violence and vulnerability, their quirks, stereotypes and vices, as well as their courage, strength and energy.



See the Official Website pages of the “Biennale Dansa-2021” : HERE

Program of Events and Venues – Pdf file: HERE


Please see my other posts in the category “Festivals-Regattas-Events”: HERE


The Venice Dance Biennale    The Venice Dance Biennale    The Venice Dance Biennale

The Venice Dance Biennale    The Venice Dance Biennale    The Venice Dance Biennale


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