“How do we reconcile that this most physical of art forms, which takes place in space and the space between bodies, now takes place physically distanced with nobody touching each other?”
That is a question that School of Dance Director Janet Lilly has been pondering for months as she and faculty, staff, and students plan for this year’s Fall Dances. Lilly says the list of questions about performance during a pandemic is staggering:
“Will the dancers need to be masked on stage, and if so will the mask become part of their costume? If two dancers are roommates or involved in a romantic relationship, can they touch, and if so how do we note it in the program so that the audience doesn’t get nervous? How do we keep everyone safe backstage and in the dressing rooms? Are the days of dancers helping each other with makeup and braiding each other’s hair gone for good?”
Questions aside, Lilly says the show must go on:
“When we were planning for the fall semester, we grappled with how to maintain as full a performance experience as possible for Dance majors involved in repertory courses. We want our students to have a fully produced theater experience, which includes spacing and lighting rehearsals, technical run-throughs, a dress rehearsal, and a performance, which their peers, friends, and family could see.”
Those spacing, sound, and lighting rehearsals are managed by Christopher Fleming, the school’s Technical Coordinator and Head of Production Management and Lighting Design. He says: “In terms of safety, the list of what we are doing goes on and on. Every precaution is being taken.”
Business Services Coordinator Amy Masters is also involved with helping keep the production schedule on track and in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions:
“We’re taking what is normally one full week of tech rehearsals and turning it into four mini-techs. Instead of running through the entire show for lighting and blocking with the crew, performers, and choreographers, each choreographer gets three nights to themselves — one to block, one for a dress rehearsal, and one for the performance. This is keeping everyone socially distanced and helping to meet capacity restrictions for the theatre while still providing a full production experience for the students.”
Masters says while there have been challenges, there have also been opportunities to add production elements that will give the audience a behind-the-scenes look and an enhanced way to do artist talkbacks:
“From the streaming side, everything about this Fall Dances is different. We’re mixing pre-recorded and live elements into the stream to help maintain social distancing standards, adding in a talkback option with the choreographer, allowing for audience participation through YouTube’s chat function, and streaming on different dates. In order to make all of this happen, we’re adding multiple camera views, a new switcher, and a whole lot of trial and error!”
Fall Dances will stream in two parts. On November 14th viewers will see Wildflower, a new solo choreographed by Janet Lilly and performed by BFA Dance Senior Daria (Toni) Clarke. It is inspired by Malia Wollan’s essay titled “How to Make a Wildflower Bomb,” which, according to Lilly, “asserts a message of hope that each of us can make a change in our ecosystems by fostering something wild and beautiful.” The second work for that evening will be Why You Follow, a group piece for Dance BA and BFA Seniors by the acclaimed Contemporary Dance choreographer Ron Brown and re-staged by Assistant Professor of Dance Clarice Young.
Young says Why You Follow was created as a statement as opposed to a question. “The idea is that there is purpose in why we find ourselves following someone’s vision or path. The dance uses contemporary technique as well as traditional movement from West Africa, Cuba, and Haiti to create a physical story. Ultimately, we follow what brings us happiness. To be truly happy, we must know the range of emotions and be connected to a world view.”
The second part of Fall Dances will be on November 21st and features a new screen work by Associate Professor Robin Gee who is also a filmmaker and says the concepts of both work well together:
“I make dances. I make films. Both necessitate a bit of technical acumen. The challenges of technology are my jam. To be an artist is to interrogate space, time, ideas, politics, and everything in between. I believe we are meeting this moment head on, evolving in our work and our processes, and creating in new and meaningful ways.”
Gee’s work will be paired with the premiere of a new work for Sophomore and Junior Dance Majors by Full-Time Lecturer of Dance Maurice Watson:
“Jazz Notes and Blue Melodies is a suite of vignettes surrounding the various stages of love. From flirtatious encounters, to first dates, into lonely nights and heartbreaks, each episode is its own little story. Driven by a sultry female jazz vocalist and paired with vernacular jazz movements spanning back to the ’20s, this piece explores the African and African American roots of jazz dance.”
Watson says creating his piece has been an interesting experience: “Social distance, no contact, and limited space is not something we as dancers are used to. Usually we partner each other, we fly, we soar, we dive, and we roll — not this time, but we’ve created something equally entertaining and a little comedic.”
Want to watch?
Fall Dances: Part One // November 14, 2020 @ 8:00 PM
Fall Dances: Part Two // November 21, 2020 @ 8:00 PM
www.youtube.com/uncgdance Both streams are open to the public, and each will run approximately 40 minutes. Pay What You Can Tickets are available through eTix.com.