The U’s Performing Dance Company Brings Stunning Performances to Virtual Audiences


(Courtesy of Performing Dance Company)

By Cade Anderson, Arts Writer


This Halloween weekend, Performing Dance Company at the University of Utah’s School of Dance successfully traded traditional in-person audiences for online streams. Four separate performances were streamed live from the Hayes-Christensen Theatre, which was only occupied by the dancers and light, audio and video technicians. In addition to dancing with no audience, determined U students also maintained social distancing guidelines and sported masks the entire time they were on stage. 

As I put on my headphones and streamed the matinee showing from my laptop at home, I was excited and surprised by how immersive the experience felt. I highly recommend the School of Dance’s online performances for anyone who misses a traditional on-campus arts experience.

After PDC’s show ended, dancers, rehearsal directors and excited audience members alike tuned in for a post-performance discussion on Zoom, where I got a glimpse into the making of these stunning dances, and how they were influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Particles, Echoes, and Light”

As the name might suggest, “Particles, Echoes, and Light” was so otherworldly it verged on ethereal. Blue lighting and mellow piano music formed the backdrop to this dance, featuring choreography that was a collaboration between Natalie Desch and U student dancers. Watching “Particles, Echoes, and Light” was a meditative experience for me, in which I was simultaneously focused on the sensory experience of it and carried away into cosmic daydreams.

“…From Down Here”

Choreographer Melanie George managed to teach this neo-jazz performance to U students entirely over Zoom. It was a powerful piece that George said explored the weight and improvisation of early Black American jazz music. One viewer noted a potential parallel between this performance and the Black Lives Matter movement. “…From Down Here” dancer Ellen Weiler agreed that the dance carries social messages, although perhaps not so explicit ones. “Essentially, if we’re doing a neo-jazz set in the South in the heavy heat — that is what the lighting and colors are inspired by — you cannot avoid that oppression,” said Weiler. 

“Shift & Flux”

Striking movements and electronic music made “Shift & Flux” a memorable performance. Choreographer Christine McMillan noted that the dance was framed around the context of the pandemic, emphasizing the juxtaposition of subjective experiences and our mutual “isolation in relation to one another.” When asked about the complication of wearing a mask while working up a sweat on stage, dancer Olivia Richardson said, “At first it was difficult to breathe, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to. Going to class and lots of other places with a mask on all the time has trained us.” McMillan noted that in designing this performance, she had to intentionally incorporate a bit of extra breathing time for her dancers.

“Bell Hill”

The show concluded with a poignant and organic performance which movement co-director Satu Hummasti called “a COVID-time offering, or ritual of togetherness.” Earthy green and gold costumes were paired with cowbells, vocal chants, sounds of birds and live violin and guitar to invoke a sense of natural abundance. The choreography of “Bell Hill” was a mutual effort between Hummasti, co-director Daniel Clifton and the dancers — it was practiced not only in empty theaters but also in open fields and the Red Butte Botanical Garden. These efforts culminated in a spiritual experience that overflowed with a feeling of community. 

PDC impressed me not just with their raw talent, but their open-minded adaptability to the pandemic. When asked about the absence of physical applause at the end of the dances, “Shift & Flux” dancer Allison Schuh said, “I was expecting to feel more isolated, but I’ve been able to ask lots of people for feedback. To come back into the studio [after dancing] and have text messages, feels like I have a different kind of applause.”

For information on other upcoming virtual performances from the U’s School of Dance, visit their website.


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