Dancers get the shortest ends of many a stick. Don’t worry; this isn’t one of those pieces…
It is worth articulating, however, that in a culture that pays us little and gives us but small windows of opportunity to share what we do in our limited spare time, we now have to, on top of everything we already do for ourselves, become filmmakers who are similarly adept at being as graceful with buggy technology as we are with our ever increasingly buggy bodies.
For me, the pandemic-induced shift to virtual dance performance and instruction was jarring, to say the least. So much so that I found my usual workaholic self making arguments to my boss as to why it was worthless to continue my ballet classes for five-year-olds. (I was wrong—today’s five- year-olds understand screens in ways I will never…I can confirm that the two-year-olds, though, were not worth it whatsoever).
As an accompanist at NYU I saw firsthand adjustments all sorts of movement pedagogues had to make while I took musical requests from my electric keyboard at home to a grid of Zoombodies, all at varying degrees of slightly behind me.
So much of March was spent scrambling to continue whereas I feel a pause for reassessment was far more in order. This rush ultimately conjured a slew of virtual events: livestreamed classes that did their best to mimic produced, pre-recorded instructional videos, venues streaming flat, archival shots of work they’ve presented, and, of course, all of those Zoom pieces…
I was so caught between my gratitude to have remained employed and my resentment at not having the free time so many were coming into that I didn’t really want to do much of anything in terms of figuring out how to translate what I was doing to a virtual platform any more than I was already being forced to.
But that didn’t last long.
I am one half of a performance duo called BREAKTIME with Holly Sass, who, as a bodyworker, fled New York to quarantine in their hometown across the country. Enough time had passed that by the time Doug Post asked how we felt about participating in a virtual presentation of his Dixon Place-based series, Under Exposed, we felt, across four time zones, like we could come out of hiding.
BREAKTIME rehearsal consists of subverting given parameters. On Zoom, this meant crafting illusions, inevitably visibly fake, though nonetheless earnest, of a fluid border—being able to “touch” each other, replacing the other’s body parts with one of our own once it crossed the frame, and merging our body halves to co-lip-sync as best as we could with the slight though unmistakable delay between us.
Product notwithstanding, we realized the process was only enjoyable insofar as it embraced and riffed upon the impossibility of perfection, elevating glitches to content itself.
As a teacher, I was dancing around with youngins on Zoom as dictated by my employer and recording full class videos for the Irish Arts Center to distribute to the students of my teaching residency. It was all a very lonely and exhausting process, and only now am I realizing that a great deal of this exhaustion and loneliness stemmed from the pressure to conduct class as though it were happening in person.
I was never one to take “open class”—too busy and too poor. That shifted when during high quarantine I would see my roommate, a longtime student of choreographer/yogi Patti Bradshaw, taking class. Fascinated by how Bradshaw, ever clear in her directives, never moved from the camera unless she really had to demonstrate, I quickly became reliant on her classes to maintain a sanity that was derived from working through her subtle movement patterning in a free, though informed, manner.
I would later come to adopt this approach when I taught a short-lived series on Site-Specific Dance, which required participants to move in unique relationship to their own homes such that demonstration was irrelevant at least and harmful at most. Often students would clear their spaces into more suitable makeshift studios; however, my idea of lockdown dancing had come to relish all physical limitations, forbidding unnecessary, counterproductive pretending.
A company I love is Hannah Garner’s 2nd Best Dance Company—comprised of individuals as brilliant as teachers as they are performers. Once Holly came back to New York and we were rehearsing again, we were sure to Zoom into 2nd Best company class on Saturday mornings.
The way they marry acknowledging physical distance with a productive irreverence to the technology is inspired. As we introduce ourselves, the rest of the room makes some sort of echo, tackling head-on the inability to talk over another, which, with enough gusto, results in the loveliest sound wave collisions. You know that mirroring exercise where you and your partner try to move as one? Try it with intermittent freezing and the awareness that everyone sees a different arrangement of who’s in what box!
I’m in a virtual play right now called Readymade Cabaret 2.0. The 2.0 is because the show was originally performed live in 2015. This is Not a Theatre Company director Erin Mee felt like this piece, a meditation on fate, luck, and chance through the lens of Dada, speaks to the current moment’s exposing the fallacy of certainty. Performed on a platform called Shindig, video boxes can be more specifically positioned than on Zoom, and audience members collectively determine the sequence of our twenty-seven scenes via virtual dice rolls. Neither a film, though more than just a play, we are practicing being ok with the mystery of new mediums our circumstances have catalyzed into being.
In making do with limited options, close approximation will always feel bad. One must either turn the familiar on its head or replace it completely. It is my feeling that each of the above examples models a way of achieving just that. And it’s only just begun…