Once again, the University of Utah’s School of Dance has successfully adapted itself to the safety precautions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The graduating seniors in the Modern Program offered mesmerizing performances in their final concert series on the theme of “Introspection.”
The theme “Introspection” is “a reflection on the ways in which prolonged isolation from peers and collaborators has been both a challenge and inspiration for the students’ work,” the School of Dance said. Like many of us, the School of Dance’s seniors expected the pandemic to have weakened its grip by now. Although vaccine distribution is ramping up, mask-wearing and limited social interaction are still necessary — and as a result, the isolation and mental health challenges induced by the pandemic are still here, too.
“For many graduating seniors, this year did not exactly go as planned,” the School of Dance said. “Entering freshman year at university, these students had planned on a final live performance where energy is radiated, and community could bring power… The works all share a common theme that reflects the adaptable nature with which the students approached their creative processes in this unique year.”
A Mixture of Pre-recorded and Live-streamed Dances
“Valley” — choreographed by Shannon Gillen and Jason Cianciulli in collaboration with the dancers — displayed pre-recorded videos of 13 graduating seniors who each offered their own unique dance to a mosaic that “moves through the lows and highs of a year unlike any other in recent history.” The performance saw these dancers express themselves in parking garages, parking lots, fields, hills and other open spaces. “Valley” communicated that amid the chaos and transformation of the past year, our selves remain intact.
“Sweven,” on the other hand, was performed entirely live. The dance by choreographer Becca Webb featured two dancers, Lo Morrison and Georgia Patterson, who used no props and no videos — a decision which perfectly matched the performance’s minimalistic and meditative mood. Non-lyrical background music was paired with masterful use of stage lights to invoke the spiritual power of solitude.
Other performances chose to blend pre-recorded video with in-person movements into a single work. “Finding Home/Achando o Lar Live” featured provocative poetry read over footage of Utah landscapes. As the performance began live on-stage, the film continued playing, covering the wall behind dancer and choreographer Sofia Sant’Anna-Skites as she explored her connection to her family and Goshute and Eastern Shoshone lands.
Creative and Nontraditional Styles
Unpredictability is one of the unique joys of a contemporary dance recital. Rejecting traditional structures of dance performances, the graduating seniors of the Modern Program pushed themselves to their creative limits and discovered very personal ways of telling stories through movement. The format felt perfectly fitting for a year as unpredictable as this.
“Not all Bad” by choreographer Sunny Swasey flowed like a music video for “I Would (Stripped)” by COIN. To this acoustic track, dancers Céline David and Sam Simonich expressed that there are hidden blessings to be found in between the hardships of the past year. The live dancers of “The Edges of the Waves,” choreographed by Sarah Oh, explored the parallel between the movement of water and the movement of our own lives, while live dancer and choreographer Georgia Patterson navigated external restriction in “ligature.”
Choreographer and dancer Annika Zuberbuehler brought to life Rupi Kaur’s poetry book “Home Body” in her work “home.” “Home” was a video performance featuring close-ups of Zuberbuehler’s body as her emotions snowballed into motions. The dance invited viewers to channel their own mind-body connections and how those might have shifted during the pandemic.
In “Bauble Head,” choreographer and performer Tori Meyer played on pandemic mask-wearing. Meyer said she hoped that the audience wouldn’t “take this too seriously” and might even find it funny. Meyer explored artificiality and gender by wearing masks of feminine and masculine torsos and then removing them to reveal her still-masked face, using the other masks as props.
Future Virtual Performances
The graduating seniors of the U’s Modern Dance Program created community and artistic meaning in the turbulence and trauma of a global pandemic. Despite the many challenges, the School of Dance continues to deliver immersive online concert experiences for free. Utah Ballet will be performing on April 22–24. Visit their website here for information on future performances.