Claire Trevor School of the Arts presented its annual MFA dance concert “New Slate” in a new online format from Dec. 10-12. 12 graduate students presented their choreography projects in a wide range of dance styles and filming techniques. The event was hosted via the CTSA website; Vimeo completed a digital program and chat feature that could be used by audience members to interact and ask questions to the choreographers.
The show’s artistic director, dance professor Lisa Naugle, opened the show with some brief words of acknowledgements to the audience, choreographers, dancers and production staff. The show was then livestreamed to audience members.
Choreographers put together screen dances with the help of editing and production assistance from the CTSA staff and drama department. The majority of the pieces were pre-recorded, but some experimented with half pre-recorded and half real-time pieces by having dancers livestream from their homes. The choreographers explored movement through structured improvisation and collaborated on choreography with their dancers. Many of the pieces explored themes of relationships to nature, different imaginary worlds and the idea of personal confinement. Others utilized playing with props such as chalk, water and everyday objects.
Each piece was both visually appealing and conceptually intriguing. Whether it be an upbeat, lively jazz piece or an emotional contemporary piece, all 12 choreographers took their own unique approach in their favor when using the online medium by treating the audience to an array of scenic backgrounds and filming techniques.
Despite challenges that the choreographers faced, they were all very successful in completing and presenting their screen dances.
Many of the choreographers implemented a live portion in addition to their pre-recorded portions. This gave the dancers and the audience the excitement of a live performance.
In pre-recorded sections, choreographers filmed in a variety of locations that ranged from the dancers’ homes to beaches. Many of the choreographers were able to film their pre-recorded sections in outside locations with their dancers while being socially distanced. Some of the locations included parks, neighborhoods, studios and beaches.
Graduate student Beverly Jane Bautista filmed her pre-recorded sections for her piece “Elev8” at very colorful locations in the OC area that supported the joyful themes presented in her piece. The colorful backgrounds were a beautiful contrast to the more neutral tones of her dancers’ costumes. The live portions, on the other hand, were performed from the dancers’ homes and were streamed in black and white. The difference in colors further highlighted the moods of vivid joy and monochromatic melancholy that were integrated into the piece. Both the coloring and location choices clearly reflected the themes Bautista was portraying in her work.
In addition to coloring and location choices, the use of props helped to tell the stories and portray the themes being explored. In “Butterfly Hug” by Stella Sing Yiun Ng, the dancer played with a small white table that was both deconstructed and reconstructed throughout the piece. The choreography was a ballet-styled solo that was filmed in a black studio. Exploring the idea of personal confinement, the piece was about a sad, lonely ballerina being trapped in a music box and eventually finding hope and building the courage to break free.
There were many bold choices in the piece choreographically; for example, the deconstruction and reconstruction of the white table. The deconstruction of the table was a visual representation of the dancer battling her struggles and feelings of loneliness. The dancer deconstructed the table into four legs and a base and then would stack the pieces into a new shape. Using the same table pieces, the dancer built something new, representing finding new hope out of her battle.
Another bold choice made in the piece was the dancer taking her hair out of a ballet bun and taking off her white wrap skirt towards the end. Then, when the music fell silent, she knocked the table pieces over, creating a loud thud before running off camera. Here, the courage and confidence that the dancer has found within herself to break out of the music box could be clearly felt by the audience. The dancer letting her hair down and taking off her skirt is a symbol of her breaking free of the music box dancer role. Furthemore, the dancer pushing the table over was a representation of her defeating her struggles after battling them for the duration of the piece.
Another powerful use of props was in “Imbue” by Whitney Schmanski. In the piece, three dancers each took turns using pieces of chalk to draw on wet pavement. Each dancer drew abstract pictures on a driveway and then water was used to begin washing them away. The dancers embraced the mess made by the water and chalk, creating beautiful movement and colorful smudges on their costumes and skin. The chalk and water combination was a beautiful representation of unpredictability and learning to adapt to new circumstances.
For this next piece, it wasn’t the props or scenery that made it stand out, but the performance of the dancers. In “Refined Repetition” by Anna Medina, the dancers moved with great confidence and sass. They worked the camera with their eyes, which created an emotional connection, and made the choreography their own by showcasing their individuality and joy. The piece was a jazzy number inspired by Big Spender in “Sweet Charity,” which is the song that the dancers danced to in the live portion on their end of the camera. However, the audience heard “Goldberg Variations BWV: Variation 3 a 1 Clav. Canone all’Unisono” by Johann Sebastian Bach on their end. What an interesting technique, having the dancers and audience members hear different songs for the same choreography! Medina made this song choice so that her dancers could embody the confidence and attitude of the song, which they did very well.
“New Slate” 2020 marked an exceptional start to the dance department’s year of online performances. Despite the many challenges faced by the choreographers, dancers and production team, everyone was able to work together to create beautiful screen dances to share with the public. When asked if they would ever consider doing anything like this again in the future, the choreographers all gave a unanimous yes, eager to continue creating in these new platforms.
CTSA will be presenting many more virtual shows throughout the winter and spring quarters, so stay tuned for more announcements.
Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org