A year ago, the dancers and choreographers of The University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance were ready to go with their annual spring show when the whole country shut down due to the pandemic. A year later, the pandemic is releasing its grip on the country and the university but still makes large gatherings risky so the department went virtual again for the spring event.
Come Closer, a film featuring works by graduate and undergraduate student choreographers in UNM’s Dance program, was organized by co-artistic directors Brianna Figueroa, an assistant professor of Dance, and MFA candidate Amy Schofield. The presentation features the work of six students, who created and videoed their own segments, using the lens to allow the viewers to come closer at a time when distance and COVID hold us apart.
“Of course the dance program wanted to present live concerts, and we hoped and hoped that circumstances would change so that we would be able to do so. Again though, not only was it unwise to have too many dancers sweating and breathing hard (even if masked) in one space, we couldn't also, in good conscience, bring an audience into our theater,” Figueroa remarked, adding, “Each segment is an original work by a student, conceived, performed, and edited.”
The pandemic and virtual production presented a challenge to the group but in the end, they worked through it.
“The dancers exhibited a great deal of adaptability as their physical practice, which once happened in the community, went into the virtual space,” Figueroa said. “It was hard for all of us ̶ me included ̶ because we are so used to working in the room together and responding to each other's energy, literally and metaphysically. On the other hand, I really value some of the developments I saw come out of our student's exploration in virtual dance. They really rose to the challenge and leaned into their unique artistic voices.
According to the video introduction, “These compositions construct affect, incite curiosity, and approach the body with notable generosity and vulnerability. Following the insight of author and activist adrienne maree brown, ‘Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.’ In her Emergent Strategy, brown calls upon all of us to nourish our communities, shape our futures, and ask ourselves, ‘Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable?’ We reflect on these words as we share this film and witness these brave artists move into the future with clarity and verisimilitude. Come Closer was produced following COVID-safe practices as outlined by the CDC.”
One aspect of the virtual presentations is that the performers aren’t confined to a stage but can instead range from the rooftops of Las Vegas to the Center of the Universe.
In Pleasure?, the first segment of Come Closer, dancer Sarah Groth performs on a windblown high point to Nous étions deux by La Femme. “What is pleasure? Is it the wind blowing in your hair? Your skin being touched. The sun on your body. Or is it the breaking of mundane patterns? The feeling of comfort after loss. The work, the endless work, to get what you want.”
Choreographer and dancer Evelyn Mendoza heads to the Center of the Universe as she performs VOID. Videography is by Jordon Cruz and JC the Creator; video and sound are edited by Mendoza and JC the Creator.
Choreographer Rebecca Huppenthal and dancers Zach Frongillo and Katrina Gilmer take their act to Las Vegas in Sinnerman, where they dance in locations that range from the iconic Bellagio fountain to a parking garage rooftop. The song Sinnerman is performed by Nina Simone. Filming is by Huppenthal and Cara Hewitt.
Flamenco grabs the spotlight in Entre Melodías. Choreographer Madison Olguin dances to an original composition by Flamenco guitarist Eloy Gonzales. Videographer and editing is by Jordan Olguin.
“In Entre Melodías we played with creating equal space for the dance and guitar and as a result found ourselves giving and responding to one another. This way of only incorporating two elements of flamenco, the dance and guitar sparked a new and challenging way of creating, made the process enjoyable, and gave us the ability to incorporate our artistry.”
Choreographer and dancer Martin Quintana evokes a Frida Kahlo vibe and performs a pas de deux with a sliding closet door in A Return To… His friend Tanya Bautista assisted with the project. Baila! Baila! Dance Academy director Israela Garcia helped coordinate costumes.
Dancer and choreographer Allysa Trujillo and her partner Raven Bright perform on the gleaming expanse of dunes at White Sands in here. A dance film by Trujillo. Music is Where You Belong by Little Dragon.
“here. is about the meaningful moments we share with the people we love and the ways we keep those moments alive through our memory. Whether through death, separation, or simply the passing of time, our memory (conscious or unconscious) is what makes love eternal, carrying us forward to making more moments that build new memories. I was once given a quote by a friend that said, ‘What is lovely never dies but passes onto other loveliness.’ (Thomas B. Aldrich) I didn’t understand it at first, but it stuck with me and as time went on, its meaning grew deeper.”