Art seeps through the darkness, courageously uplifting and reflecting its environment. The struggles of these times are apparent, but dance and its living canvases radiate resilience.
COVID-19 presented Mercyhurst’s Dance department with a list of precautions that seemed impossible to meet within the discipline, but through tireless effort, the department has banded together to change the playbook and re-imagine movement education.
Faces covered, floors mopped, hand sanitizer-ready and six feet apart, Hurst’s student choreographers faced new choreographic challenges as they pursued their semester projects.
Luckily, however, change often sparks innovation and the most beautiful flower blooms in adversity. Traditionally, dance students take varying levels of choreography classes and perform their final works for a live audience in one of Mercyhurst’s theaters.
This year, without the capability of live performances, students have still put together a show called “Reflections” which has been filmed for viewing by the Mercyhurst community.
Beyond not having a live audience, strict policies have completely changed the choreographic process for dance students.
Libby Bullinger, a current junior Dance major enrolled in Choreography III, speaks about how the experience of completing this class has been for her so far.
“This is not the piece I was planning on creating for Choreography III, but due to the restrictions I completely changed my concept and created something I am in love with that would not have existed otherwise. I know many others in our class feel the same, and as dancers, choreographers and artists we have to be adaptable and turn change into opportunity,” said Bullinger.
Clearly the juniors and seniors involved in this project are rising from the ashes of their changed expectations and becoming resilient choreographic phoenixes.
Since the beginning of the semester, under the care and supervision of dance instructors Solveig and Mark Santillano, these bright thinkers have been working tirelessly to produce movement masterpieces as safely as possible.
Six feet apart, but still connected through music and theme, each piece limits the number of performers to five per piece, and each rehearsal is religiously monitored by faculty to ensure distancing and sanitation precautions are followed.
The studio floors are taped in grids of 12-foot boxes, and each dancer must remain in their assigned box. As such, choreographers have to limit their movement vocabulary to steps that can be executed within those boxes. This takes large jumps, running patterns and partnering completely off the table. These limitations force choreographers to play with other ideas such as levels (how can a phrase choreographed standing be adapted to the floor, for example), dynamics (how does a step change when performed quickly or slowly? How does this compliment or juxtapose the music?) and stillness (what tension is created when there is no movement, or movement from some dancers and stillness from others?).
All in all, the department ensures an environment of defense against COVID-19 while still allowing students to explore pertinent choreographic tools.
Although live performances are not a current possibility, the students were still able to record their projects and learn through the process. Filming took place for juniors on Oct. 17 and for seniors on Oct. 18.
Although closed to the public, the studios were overflowing with innovative works ranging from sassy jazz and tap solos, to neoclassical pointe repertoire and even an interactive piece on the importance of voting.
In short, Mercyhurst could not be prouder of the work and growth of these up-and-coming choreographers and commends them on their grit and ability to overcome in order to cultivate their craft.
The showcase of the junior class’s work will be held on Zoom on Oct. 27 at 5:15p.m., and the senior class will be Oct. 28 at 5:15 p.m. All are welcome!
Well done Choreography III!