Fall Dance Fest 2020 goes online

A student dancer performs "Biophilia." Photo by Deborah McLaughlin.

Student dancer Abigail Anderson rehearses "Biophilia." Photo by Deborah McLaughlin.

Each fall the Department of Dance puts on Fall Dance Fest, a showcase featuring student dancers within the program performing compositions created by dance professors. This year’s event will be the first time that the performance will be streamed online rather than performed for a live audience. It will also feature two senior student choreographers performing their own solos as part of the lineup.

Fall Dance Fest 2020 will feature a variety of styles as each choreographer brings his or her own flavor to the event. Like everything else in 2020, the coronavirus has influenced many of the performance decisions for the event. Associate Professor Amy VanKirk will be reworking a piece she initially developed in 2017 titled “Fragmentation 119.3” To accommodate coronavirus guidelines, she crafted the performance as a trio so that dancers could move in a column within 10’ squares and never cross paths. The performance will contain three very different musical pieces that are purposefully broken down and put back together. “I thought that being fragmented and disjointed would be relevant to the way we’ve all had to distance in recent months,” said VanKirk.

Assistant Professor Ji-Eun Lee will be debuting a new piece titled “An Old Story” that features thirteen dancers in a dance-theatre style performance. Lee said it will contain abstract themes about destiny and the circle of life. Hers is a lengthy piece, timing out to twenty minutes. It is her first time trying something in the genre of dance-theatre, which is a form of dance that can incorporate speaking, singing, chanting, props, costumes, sets and other elements traditionally thought of as components of theatre.

Professor Inessa Plekahanova will be showcasing a classical ballet piece. This semester Plekhanova is teaching a repertoire class with six students, so she decided to bring them into the fold for this performance. Her students will present the world-famous “Friends Dance” from “Giselle,” the classic French ballet.

Department Chair James Robey will be debuting a new, modern dance titled “Careless Whisper on the Trombone.” “The focus I was working on with the dancers was on exploring the challenges of communication and connection from a distance,” said Robey. The music will feature soundbites of conversations that students have had through zoom with one another other. Robey asked students to record themselves having freeform conversations on Zoom that were submitted for use in the soundtrack. He said that the title came from one of those conversations where a student was discussing how she walked through Trinkle Hall and heard someone playing the famous 1980s hit song “Careless Whisper” on the trombone and how much she enjoyed listening to it.  

The move to show Fall Dance Fest 2020 online was solely for safety purposes during the pandemic. Professors and students alike have been working to keep their performances safe. Preparations for the event have presented interesting challenges for those involved. Plekhanova said that it will be strange for dancers to have on masks during her ballet performance. “In ballet it is important for audiences to see the performer’s faces to communicate the inspiration behind their moves. It will be a little weird, but hopefully people will understand,” she said.

Students rehearse "Fragmentation 119.3." Photo by Amy VanKirk.

Students Paige Lake, Christine Hallinger, and Mailey Paupore rehearse "Fragmentation 119.3." Photo by Amy VanKirk.

VanKirk said that she developed ten foot squares as a space for her trio to perform and keep them separate, however choreography was challenging within limited space because it was difficult to avoid making it seem like dancers were just running back and forth along their designated spaces. To adjust for this, VanKirk said that she essentially had to learn how to shoot and edit video in order to cut together a variety of angles of the dancers during the performance.

The cleaning process is also something that created extra work for dancers. After each practice dancers were required to wipe down their respective areas with disinfectants to keep their practice areas safe. In some cases dancers were responsible for wiping down 300 square feet of space when they were done. “The students have been rockstars about safety precautions,” said VanKirk. “They take it in stride and are just happy to be here dancing.”

Preparations for the event have not been without irony as well. When planning for her solo performance, Professor Mclaughlin said that she initially assumed that the performer would not wear a mask, since she would be the only person in the performance space. “We tried it without the mask but then decided that having the dancer wear one fit the piece better, so even the solo piece will feature a dancer in a mask.”

Robey said the nature of having to keep dancers secluded to specific areas has felt a little stifling but that everyone in the department has tried to embrace the situation as a creative challenge.

Traditionally Fall Dance Fest has been choreographed by faculty members, but this year two seniors, Reagan Mihailof and Alexa Austin, will also be showcasing their own works. The decision was made to include them since the “Student Choreography Showcase” was canceled during the spring semester when the university shut down during the initial outbreak of the pandemic.

Fall Dance Fest 2020 will offer three performances on October 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. with a final performance on October 17 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are free and can be reserved by going to http://radford.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eFAQynVViI5gKwJ

Oct 8, 2020