Daniella Bertrand was one of many students who participated in the fall semester’s only dance concert.
She had to choreograph one dance and perform another, which in a regular year would have been completely normal for her.
But this year, most of the process was done over Zoom.
“I made a piece with four dancers, and we did Zoom calls for rehearsals. [Eventually,] we put them on stage into four separate columns, [and I had to figure out how to] create work that would stay in the four columns with social distancing,” Bertrand, a senior dance and math major, said. “For Kerry Ring’s piece, I was a dancer, and we did most of the work over Zoom. It was more like an improvisation [before] we went on stage and worked in the space as well.”
On Dec. 11 and 12, UB’s Theatre and Dance Department ended the semester with its only fall dance concert, “Home and Away: A Virtual Dance Concert.” The hour-long production consisted of separate pre-recorded choreographed dances edited together. Some of these dances were performed on-campus while others were either performed outside or in students’ own homes. The production included 50 undergraduate dance majors as well as works and performances by MFA students, faculty and undergraduate students. After registering through a short online form, audience members were sent an email with a link to the live-streamed performance on YouTube. Viewers were able to donate money; the show itself was free.
Clinical Associate Professors Jeanne Fornarola and Kerry Ring were two of the three co-directors for this production. The duo also created some of the choreography alongside Clinical Assistant Professor Jenna Del Monte and other students. Fornarola and Ring said this production was the first UB Dance virtual concert in the department’s long history.
“It is a historical moment, and I think our hand was forced to do this,” Fornarola said. “But in another way, we are also moving forward in a digital age. Our students are experimenting and we’re coming up with art in a different way than we ever had.”
On Dec. 11, the show was live-streamed twice. The first performance, shown to students at local schools, started at 10 a.m. and the next performance, “Performance A,” took place at 7:30 p.m. On Dec. 12, the final performance was live-streamed at 7:30 p.m., and was titled “Performance B.”
Since many dancers, choreographers and designers worked on pieces for this production, “Performance A” and “Performance B” consisted of completely different choreography pieces, allowing all the pieces to be in the production without making the show too long.
During “Performance A,” junior BFA dance major Kelsey Wegman was both a performer and a choreographer. She danced in Fornarola’s piece “Social Notworking” and the final group bows.
“Social Notworking” was performed onstage in three parts. In the first part, called “The Influencer,” dance major Julia Zeszutko wore a hot pink top with a tutu and patterned leggings while she danced gracefully to upbeat music. As she danced, bright LED lights changed colors behind her, and the footage was edited so that messages about how to be an influencer, such as “be quirky,” appeared on the screen.
For the second part, “Face Time Me K,” junior accounting major Kelsey Sullivan and junior management student Karina Wakulchuk danced with smartphones in their hands. They performed in front of and behind the backdrop as images of the dancers’ real faces along with cartoonish versions were projected onto the back of the stage.
During the last part, “What’s Your Insta?,” Wegman, along with senior music theatre major James Caposito and dance major Juliana Guiffrida, danced while holding smartphones. The dancers were separated by three vinyl walls, and colorful hearts were projected onto the backdrop.
Instead of a regular ending of group bows, the bows were made into another choreographed performance called “No Place We’d Rather Be.” The ending stitched together footage of all the dancers in the program.
Wegman also choreographed the piece “Time you Spend,” filmed in Bassett Park. Eight dancers wore brightly colored casual shirts with either ripped jeans or dark leggings. As they danced under a giant tree to the acoustic version of “Younger” by Seinabo Sey, footage of the trees and foliage in the park was sometimes superimposed over the performance.
Despite the challenges of the year, Wegman considered the semester a success.
“Working in this virtual experience, there were many things different about this production from previous productions in past semesters,” Wegman said. “Other than that, exploring virtual dance making and performing was an opportunity that was interesting to both experience and learn about. It was a great experience to learn of the variety of ways there are to showcase and create dance as well.”
Dance student Meg Kirchhoff choreographed a dance shown during “Performance A” titled “Today.Again.” The performance featured four dancers performing in their homes. The video was in black and white and the separate footage was often superimposed. As the melancholic songs “Yr Love” by Holy Other and “Lamentations” by Sufjan Stevens played, the dancers touched and moved against the walls, conveying feelings of frustration and claustrophobia.
Ring said that all of these pieces are “broad and varied” because the motto for UB Dance is “versatility matters.”
“Not only are they varied by whether they’re in the theatres or out on location, the content is very different [too]. The dancers are dancing about different feelings and different aspects of their lives,” Ring said. “So, the dances have highs and lows. [Some] have social political sort of content, [and] some are more dramatic.”
Due to COVID, the faculty decided to record the dances both on and off campus to help with social distancing, which is where the title “Home and Away” comes from.
Many of the dances were performed in the Center of the Arts’ Mainstage Theatre, Drama Theatre and Atrium, and were considered to be the “Home” pieces. The dance pieces were recorded and edited by the UB Production Group, which is a team that provides technical and video production services across all UB campuses, and consisted of solos, duets and quartets.
Graduate theatre student Madison Sullivan came up with the idea to incorporate see-through barriers made of piping and vinyl into the set design. The barriers were taller than the dancers and could be reconfigured for different pieces so everyone could dance together without masks while also being separated.
When entering the theatre for rehearsals, the entire crew had to immediately sign in and show the stage manager their daily health check and wash their hands. There were designated areas where the dancers put their water bottles or their bags, and the crew members all wore masks. The rehearsals lasted only 45 minutes, after which the stages were sanitized.
Dances were choreographed, performed and recorded by students living off-campus for the “Away” pieces, as part of a new class called “Dance for Camera.” Some of these dances were performed by multiple dancers wearing masks in open spaces outdoors. Other dances were performed alone in the dancers’ homes.
Design Technology Professor Lynne Koscielniak was the final co-director. Her students worked on the lighting and scenic designs in this production.
Students working with all three co-directors said they had a positive experience.
Senior theatre design and technology major Rebecca Stock was the lighting designer for Fornarola’s pieces and the projection designer for Ring’s pieces. She also created some of the music used in the show. While there were some struggles, she said that this production helped the design students become closer with the dance students in ways that have not occurred before.
“In the normal seasons and semesters, I feel like design works a lot more with musical theatre and theatre performance than we do with dance. And part of that, I think, is because we don’t really work with the students as choreographers. But it was kind of the reverse this semester,” Stock said. “Working with the choreographers in this way was really fun because we got a lot of new ideas.”
Bertrand said she looks forward to that continuing next semester.
“I hope that this can continue so that we do get to be a really strong department,” Bertrand said. “It is theatre and dance, and that includes all the tech and design. We just don’t get to connect on a different level when we are all in person.”
Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AnastasiaWilds
Anastasia Wilds is an asst. arts editor.