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UCI’s Dance Department Hosts Their First Online Performance

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May 14 would’ve marked the opening night of UCI Dance Department’s annual undergraduate choreography showcase, “Physical Graffiti.” The shift to remote rehearsals following the show’s cancelation didn’t stop the cast and creative team from putting on a performance. Instead, dancers continued their creative processes with a new online format, allowing audiences to view their work from the comfort of their homes.  

Pre-COVID-19, 13 undergraduate choreographers auditioned and rehearsed their works with the intention to present them live on the Claire Trevor Theatre stage. The production also involved around 50 backstage staff including stage managers, assistant stage managers, scenic designers, wardrobe personnel and lighting operators. Now, spread across the country and quarantined in their homes, choreographers were forced to give up their original dances and start from scratch. Their new works were created remotely, using only their iPhones, computers and other technological mediums handy within their homes. The reimagined showcase, entitled “Physical Graffiti Online,” expressed a wide array of themes such as community, family, isolation, childhood and love while exploring how to create unity during separation.

This online event took place on May 21 and 22 via Zoom. It began with a brief introduction from artistic directors Lisa Naugle and Lindsay Gilmour, during which they explained different aspects of the newly-arranged performance while highlighting the immense amount of work put into each piece. The choreographers then introduced their concept and inspiration behind their piece as well as any other ideas that contributed to its development. They also discussed their challenges and the ways they adapted to the new format.

After their presentation, viewers were directed to a website displaying a gallery of all the choreographer’s works and were given time to take a look at what they created to replace their original staging. Many showed their dances through video by integrating a great deal of editing to add different effects that adhered to their concepts. Some even made websites, collages and paintings to complement their work and further enhance their ideas.   

  “align and realign” by McKenzie Olsen. Photo provided by UCI Dance Department/Physical Graffiti Online.

The show concluded with a Q and A session where choreographers took questions from audience members regarding their creative processes. Here are some notable questions that were asked and their responses: 

Editor’s Note: Some of the quotes have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: “What choreographic methods did you learn that you wouldn’t usually use and will you continue to use them past quarantine?” 

EMBER OANIA-HOPKINS: “For me, it was definitely a learning experience being able to communicate with my dancers on how I wanted them to film themselves dancing. I didn’t really have much experience with the way the audience views the piece from a 360 point-of-view considering in a theatre you see everything up front one-dimensionally. It was a good experience to be able to coach my dancers so the audience could receive the feeling that I was going for in an effective way.” 

Q: “Has this inspired you to continue to explore the possibility of web-based arts making or are you ready to get back to the stage and perform? Are you coming away with a preference for one or the other?” 

EMMA ANDRES: “Since I used a collaboration of visual art and dance, it was really inspiring to get to see the other side and use new software that I hadn’t before. While it was a great addition to my work and I definitely see myself using these different artistic elements in my future choreography, I do very much want to choreograph for the stage again. Although I feel like this process was something that will inspire my work and maybe even prompt collaboration with other artists, I definitely see myself going back to the stage.”

Q: “Does this creative dance-making experience make you more excited about the prospects of what dance/performing arts will look like in a post-pandemic world? Or more stressed and worried?”

CLAIRE GOLDES: “I definitely think it’s helped us all broaden our horizons and consider things that we never would have had the opportunity to consider before. Taking something that was made for one medium and totally shifting it into another was really interesting and I think we’re all really grateful for the opportunity to experience that. It was a shock at first to totally shift your mindset and change how you were going to communicate your ideas and art but it’s also really cool to think about the limits of where art will go in the future.” 

The outpour of comments from the Zoom chat box showed no shortage of love and support for the inaugural event. The choreographers, dancers and artistic team created an innovative  performance that was truly inspiring to witness.“Physical Graffiti Online” proves that dancers can put on a show under any circumstances and not let anything limit their artistic capacities. 

Jacqui Pash is an Entertainment Intern for the 2020 spring quarter. She can be reached at jpash@uci.edu