“DANCEWORKS 2021” excites with its ingenious use of the digital interface

Mixing pre-recorded and live performances, AU dancers reflect on their experience with the virtual show

“DANCEWORKS 2021” excites with its ingenious use of the digital interface

Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen Arts Center on Massachusetts Avenue 

For anyone who questioned if dance could operate in the virtual setting, “DANCEWORKS 2021” gave its emphatic answer: Absolutely. Energetic, emotional and downright mesmerizing, the American University Dance Program has overcome the virtual setting with its ingenious adaptations to an online space. 

On April 16 and 17 over Zoom, AU dancers explored different styles, such as the contemporary performance “Hardwear,” or West-African dance in “Opening the Way.” Featuring five acts, including a finale that showcased all of the performers, “DANCEWORKS 2021” reminded viewers that movement can be anywhere and everywhere. 

Like its title suggests, “Opening the Way” was a feel-good performance, powered by bouncy percussion and quick rhythms. Dancers and musicians were filmed on-campus wearing West African garments. You could tell one thing from watching: They were having loads of fun. The whole performance was sharply edited and successfully set the stage for the rest of the show. 

Junior Paige Hofschire, a performer featured in “Opening the Way,” offered some insight into the West African art form of Lamban. 

“Lamban is the dance of the Malinke people, who are from Senegal and Mali,” Hofschire said. “It’s for celebrating life events like weddings or other milestones.” 

For Hofschire, she appreciates the opportunity to explore different forms of dance while simultaneously learning more about culture. 

“It is very much encouraged and available to expand our movement vocabulary as much as possible,” Hofschire said. 

Where “Opening the Way” was light and joyful, the performance that followed it, “Vital Repertoire,” was rough, jagged and teeming with questions. Orchestral tunes found their way into the funky electro-punk soundtrack and fueled the sharp, calculated movements of the performers. 

It’s necessary to applaud the Dance Program’s use of camerawork and editing for all of the virtual performances. Using the camera to provide a new perspective on the audience’s experience of dance and movement is eye-opening and all-encompassing. There was never a dull moment; every move, cut and edit flowed with such ease. During “Vital Repertoire,” I almost thought I was watching a music video. 

Sophomore Natalia Cervantes reflected on her experience with rhythm while rehearsing for “Vital Repertoire.” 

“There’s rhythm all around us [on] the Earth,” Cervantes said. “I was able to see the rhythm in my world and bring it into this piece.” 

Cervantes thought that the positives of a virtual setting outweighed the negatives. 

“I feel like I have grown exponentially as not only a dancer but an artist in general,” Cervantes said. “I was really able to hone in on new skills that I had never experienced, like being behind the camera.” 

The third piece, “Hardwear” was the only one performed live on Zoom, but was arguably the most creative. Whimsical, playful and silly, this performance explored the madness of being holed up in one place for too long — an all too familiar feeling. What I loved was the creative approach to set design, as the performers’ rooms and walls were covered with sticky notes and blue tape to create mountains and buildings. 

Sophomore Jenn Cinicola was excited to finally perform in “Hardwear” for “DANCEWORKS 2021” after the 2020 rendition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“That was going to be my first DANCEWORKS, and when the show was cut, it felt horrible because we had done two and half months of work, and then nothing,” Cinicola said. 

Cinicola still sees the virtual setting as a challenge, but definitely recognizes the benefits. “I could be completely out of it, you know? It’s about having the self-discipline of bringing yourself into a virtual space, and trying to form a connection over the computer, and trying to get some sort of unison,” Cinicola said. 

The fourth piece, “Marking Time,” was as elegant as the wind, with the flowing movements of the dancers contrasted against the flat fields and tall, stiff forest trees of Airlie, Virginia. Another pre-recorded piece, the spacey soundtrack led the audience’s mind to question how we move across the linear nature of time, and how we could interpret the sequence of the performers as they enter the frame one by one. 

Sophomore Sydney Houston thought that the abundance of space at their filming location was disorienting at first. 

“When we rehearsed for the first time on-site, it was so weird because for a whole semester you’re dancing alone in your kitchen, and suddenly you have this huge space,” Houston said. “Being there in the morning and seeing the site change throughout the day felt almost surreal. It was a great experience to dance out there.”

To conclude, the final performance “Re-Vision,” was a true testament to the commitment of the cast and crew of this production. Each performer had a clip of their movement featured in this smartly edited and choreographed piece, and it was the most enjoyable one to watch. 

This is where the virtual show shines, by combining different forms of media to create a unique performance that includes everyone. 

“It was the first time that we featured everyone from the program, and I think it really brought to life how supported I’ve felt during this insane time,” Cervantes said.

tau@theeagleonline.com

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