The Contemporary Dance Ensemble performs against the tide



UVU’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CDE) put on an innovative and exciting dance performance that members of the public saw from the comfort of their homes on March 27, 2021.

As COVID-19 demanded restrictions on the ability to do a live performance in front of a large group of people, CDE created an all-virtual concert with a conglomerate of regular videography and stop-motion animation to tell the stories. As a result, not only were choreographers, dancers and light designers needed, but videographers and editors were also essential to the production.

“We have been able to take advantage of the incredible talent of UVU’s studio and broadcast services team, and this relationship is ripe for potential opportunities in the future,” said Monica Campbell, CDE Co-Director and Assistant Professor and president of the dance department. “With our virtual concert, we were able to reach a larger audience than with our usual live show. My sister was able to watch from London.

The dancers were in masks the entire time, which subtly commented on the impact of the coronavirus while adding to the dark and mysterious feeling of the production. The show started with a large group designed by Brian Gerke, internationally renowned dance department teacher and choreographer, where the dancers moved methodically and moved on 12 patterned mats on the stage.

Then an interesting new piece called ‘Stay in your frame,entirely created using stop motion animation. It was an aggregation of still images of dancers where a rapid change of each frame occurred to create the effect of full, uninterrupted movement. UVU Dance faculty member Sarah Donohue did this and two other similar projects that appeared in the show: “Where Empty Minds Misbehave” and “In a forbidden country far, far away. The projects have demonstrated the stimulation of exciting new and innovative ideas by COVID-19 restrictions. Between these pieces there was another by choreographer Laura Brick.

A lively and engaging part of the production was a dance that was filmed indoors and outdoors on the UVU campus and throughout Utah County in under 10 hours. The performers were dressed in a variety of colorful clothes that stood out against the various sets, some of which were stairs, hallways and courtyards. UVU dancers and teachers were delighted to work with Mike Esperanza, an award-winning choreographer based in New York City who designed this issue called “Outsiders.

“Most of the inspiration for this piece came from current events,” Esperanza said. “The things that have affected us emotionally and the way we interact with people. I feel like we’ve all transformed in one way or another, so I wanted to illustrate this story with movement.

Esperanza directed and prepared the dancers from her own apartment via Zoom. Using a storyboard to clearly communicate her vision, the performers learned and performed her choreography so they could seamlessly stitch the video together.

“I had to rely on a dot book – a term we used in marching bands and drums – to compose the dancers in specific spaces,” Esperanza explained. He said the Zoom teaching process was quite difficult. However, Esperanza had previously worked with CDE on another piece and feels the dancers are hard workers and understand well how he works. During their collaboration, he said that they keep the environment positive and fun.

To close the show, all the dancers have teamed up to perform an intense and dreamlike piece by choreographer LajaMartin. Throughout the dance, a dancer slept on a chair and the video faded between him and the other performers dancing across the stage. The sleeping boy woke up abruptly at the last moment, revealing that he might have been dreaming all along.

“Against the Grain” turned out to be a very apt name for the show because the directors, dancers and choreographers had to be innovative during the COVID-19 era to put on such a production.

“I think the most important lesson we’ve learned is that no matter what, no matter what the dancing will continue,” said Campbell. “We will always find a way to create, share and do what we love. Even if it involves learning from your living room, rehearsing and playing for hours in masks and 10ft squares, or without touch or touch. I think this is a testament to the passion, resilience and ingenuity of the entire School of the Arts – not just dance. We are so proud of our students and teachers.

From their efforts was born an original and engaging performance that felt contemporary and anything but conventional, going against the grain of anything that had been seen before.
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