Dancers and choreographers in the UNM Dance program were rehearsed and ready to go. A student-choreographed spring show was set to be performed when the whole country shut down, effectively shutting down the dance troupe and its audience.
The cancelation of gatherings of 50 people or more was one of the first actions UNM took in response to the pandemic.
“We knew we certainly would not be able to have a live show under any circumstance, but the student choreography concert is a major opportunity for our students to be able to hone their choreographic skills and define their artistry and we didn't want them to lose this platform. On the other hand, we were just getting the recommendations to start social distancing and our students were moving into an extended spring break. Students would not be able to safely collaborate or use studio space,” Figueroa explained.
“Once this happened and we knew that the production wasn't going to happen as it normally did, we had a choice to cancel or to find an alternative way. Assistant professor and head of Dance Amanda Hamp suggested that we offer students the online concert option based on some projects that were done elsewhere. We all agreed and Brianna and I made the necessary adjustment to the proposal fitting our student population and production needs,” Reche said.
She said video became the next best option, inspired by the work of film director Mitchell Rose, who has produced several "chain dance" videos in which a participant creates a short, solo piece of choreography, and the next participant begins their phrase where the previous dancers left off.
“Normally, we do not define a theme for student concerts, but given the circumstances, we suggested ‘quarantine’ as a conceptual link with the hope that it would offer our students direction as they adjusted and respond to the massive shift happening around us all. We then offered Rose's work as an optional model but asked to students to respond as they were compelled,” Figueroa said.
Students followed the usual audition process, which required that they present a completed work. Selected projects must then further refine with mentorship provided by dance faculty, and re-audition for final acceptance. Students were 100 percent responsible for filming and editing their own individual videos.
“We were really proud to see how students dove into this new medium and how they advanced their projects between the two auditions based on faculty suggestions, but also their own intuition and creative inclination,” she said.
Figueroa noted that students are not graded on this project nor do they receive course credit.
“Our students do this as an extracurricular activity in order to maintain progress on the skills they develop in particular courses like choreography, for example. We maintain this concert as a dependable platform for students to access as they choose,” she explained.
The completed video is called Observer as Poet: a digital concert by emerging choreographers on the theme of quarantine. Reche credited Hamp with the idea for the title, adding, “With that said, I saw this as an opportunity to remind students that as creators you are in charge of defining or not the ideas that you will present. Understanding that you don't have full control of what the audience will see on or out of your work but it is still your work and if you want to say something you must do it in a way that express your voice as clear as possible, you are the one responsible for your work, your voice, your decisions.”
The intimate half hour-plus video sprawls across venues and emotions. Students filmed themselves in their bedrooms, kitchens, yards, local parks, on a bridge over a mountain stream, and in a suitcase. Guest stars include parents, kids, spouses, dogs, and cats. The audience sees their furniture, art, plants, and clutter. They break dance, pole dance, ballet dance, belly dance, dance interpretively, swing dance, twist, and pop and bot. At times, dancers ooze boredom and clutch their hair in rage, but also find joy in a spontaneous outbreak with the kids in the living room or a jitterbug in the kitchen.
“While the virus has forced us into social isolation, these dances offer a remarkable level of intimacy that can be hard to express in a traditional theatre space. Students have invited us into their homes, featured their loved ones, and articulated their very real fears and hopes in a time of communal hardship,” Figueroa observed, adding, “We are reminded of Juno Diaz who said, ‘The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art,’ and we are grateful that we have slowed down, if only briefly, and the art is here, waiting for us to listen.”
Appropriately, the video starts off with This is Co.Vid.19, a montage of dancers executing myriad techniques. The catchy soundtrack Move Together by Ndidi O assures the viewer that “We can get there faster if we all move together.”
Twenty-seven days is performed, filmed, and edited by master’s candidate Cristina Tadeo, with a Wizard of Oz-like transition from black and white to color to reflect the transition from boredom to dance, to the 1979 hit song Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp. The segment costars Tadeo’s cat Sebastian.
Next is Radius ‘placed healing,’ created by Shannon Parales, that features a Zoom-like handwashing sequence and a guest appearance by a Pojoaque hoop dancer to the tune of Red Skin Girl by A Tribe Called Red.
Internal: External features Martin Quintana and Sage Simpson dancing separately to November by Max Richter. Their intro explains, “The process first began by exploring these ideas of intense isolation, feelings of being out of control versus being in solitude. “ In the end, they’re superimposed in the same space.
In You and you alone, Amy Schofield and Kara Olguin use moves that evoke flamenco as a robotic voice by The Honest Guys intones, “You and you alone.” Schofield edited the segment.
In Ambiente by Evelyn Mendoza, the scenes change from a small-town street to the forest, where deer watch as various members of the troupe dance. Music is Algo esta cambiando by Julieta Venegas. The segment was filmed in Ruidoso.
Siblings Dylan and Mylan Wray perform a solemn ballet against the mundane backdrop of a park lawn in Corona Isolation. Music is by film composer Ryan Rapsys.
Madrone Matysiak reflects the restless energy and frustration of isolation in Small doses do not quench, backed by the soundtrack of Interstate 8 by Modest Mouse, with lyrics that say, appropriately, “I spent the same 18 hours in the same damn place.”
Colander Phone was recorded in tight spaces as Elyse Fahey and Miles Firkins dance in a cramped galley kitchen to Allegro Prestissimo from Sonata for Two Cellos as performed by vocalist Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The segment ends the exhortation to “Wash your hands, cover your face, make dances at home!”
Another setting Midwestern sun, springtime from the couch features Samantha Archuleta performing dance moves on the living room sofa as her dog waits patiently nearby. Sound is by cellist Zoe Keating.
The video wraps up with choreographer/performer Rebecca Huppenthal submerging in the Rio Grande in Redemption at the Water with Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch singing Down to the River to Pray.
“We didn't have a lot of real-time interaction putting together this show because we all worked independently from home. Normally we have hours of interaction as we get these shows up and running,” Figueroa noted. “We did really delight in seeing what our students accomplished with minimal mentorship and in the face of changes that were both big and fast. I loved seeing our students be creative in their own spaces and with their loved ones. I get to see them in class, but not like this, and so I appreciate the dimensionally that this project allowed our student body to explore and share.”
“This is a reminder of why I choose to come to UNM. Our students are extremely talented and given the opportunity, and a bit of a push, they will surpass expectations,” Reche added.