‘Mini’ dance showcase meets challenges with virtual performance

The Mini Locally Grown Dance (MLGD) will showcase student and faculty dance performances from the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA), December 3–5 at 7:30 p.m. online. The events are free and open to the public but ticket reservations are required.

The MLGD features two faculty group works, each consisting of nine student solos choreographed in collaboration between faculty and performers. Additionally, there is an individual video work by graduate student Marienrica Giannuzzi, which was choreographed by Giannuzzi in Ithaca and her friend Dorian Chavez in Brussels during quarantine in spring 2020, with music by Heather Fae Calla ("Soft Squadron"). The works provide commentary on the current political and social climates, as well as reflecting the specificity of teaching and studying dance online.

MLGD is usually performed in person at the Schwartz Center and sometimes includes videography. This year it will be completely virtual and shared exclusively online. Working within such a highly collaborative and physical art form, PMA faculty Jumay Chu and Byron Suber, with their performers, have had to develop unique ways of bridging, as Chu puts it, “the wild chasms of distance” across cyberspace.

“Usually when we work with students, we can go around them, observe them from many different perspectives,” Chu said. “Now, forced to work through Zoom, we can see them from one aspect only. This three-dimensional process has now become problematically two-dimensional for us.”

The pieces by Chu and Suber pieces are respectively titled “Thieves” and “Eclipse.”

Through her piece, Chu works with her dancers to define both their separations as isolated individuals and their seemingly improbable relationships as creative partners. Together they explore ways of filling and grounding the space between them.

Suber is collaborating not only with his dancers but with their roommates, whom he instructs via Zoom on how to video the dancers. In this way, he is able to direct how the camera moves but cannot see the result until after it is uploaded. Suber also plans to video his dancers post-Thanksgiving break in an effort to capture the “unsettling and emotional transition” from the studio to the home environment.

The choreography for “Eclipse” will be accompanied by original music, previously created in collaboration with Syau-Cheng Lai and now with additional work by Warren Cross, PMA senior lecturer, and department accompanist Max Buckholtz. “Thieves” will have music by Annie Lewandowski, senior lecturer in the Department of Music, and her collaborator Thomas Bonvalet.

The inability to work in person has created numerous challenges, Suber and Chu said, yet they see potential benefits: a virtual performance with its material ability to review has more enduring power than a live presentation that must rely on the ephemerality of memory. Initial performances will be streamed online, and clips of the performances will be available in different forms after the premiere weekend.

Working virtually challenges the choreographers and dancers in new ways. “Choreographing this way demands different considerations when audiences can choose the specific physical context and timeline in which they view the work. Holding an audience’s attention this way is an entirely different project,” said Suber.

Tickets may be reserved at schwartztickets.com; a link to the performance will be emailed to ticket-holders prior to showtime, and the performances will be available to view after the premiere weekend.

Sara Pistono is communications assistant for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.


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