Dance: the wonderful art form consisting of selected sequences of human movement. This movement is very powerful, and can be visually stunning, disturbing and emotionally jarring. Dance is symbolic, purposeful and the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company brought those elements to the University of Nevada, Reno on Oct. 27.
In the second event for the university’s 2020 online Performing Arts Series, Ririe-Woodbury took the digital stage on Oct. 27, delivering videographed segments of rehearsals, performances and a final piece that combined both the dancers of UNR and the dancers of Ririe-Woodbury.
The evening ended with program manager Shoshana Zeldner hosting a live Q&A session with dancers Nicholas Jurica, Dominica Greene and Ririe-Woodbury’s director/choreographer Daniel Charon.
The performance was intricately produced and very thought-out, keeping the virtual audience in mind. What added an extra challenge for the dancers was the restriction of remaining six feet apart the entire time, while wearing masks.
“I get those eyes staring back at me and I have no idea,” Director Daniel Charon said in the Q&A session. “I feel like it’s so hard to read their expressions from this point of view.”
Indeed—dancers convey so much emotion and communication through their faces, and it can be a hard workaround with pandemic regulations. The dance company, still producing virtual shows, needed to practice with added safety because of the pandemic; that means no physical contact between dancers, and duets need to be crafted and choreographed in a way where two individuals can still visually connect without physical touch.
“We are a pretty small company,” Nicholas Jurica said when asked about the physical distance constraint. “When we are doing our best, I think that allows a pathway for communication and hopefully … we can be sensitive with each other.”
On the other hand, the pandemic has stretched the dancers from Ririe-Woodbury in a way they’ve never experienced, and while virtual performances aren’t new, the pandemic has presented welcomed challenges that have strengthened the company’s dancing and communication skills.
“I love the theatricality that the face brings,” Dominica Greene said. “But, I also love that we can just dance and convey what we’re trying to say with our body without showing it with our face. The masks are a great challenge.”
The dance company truly embraced every aspect of their performance, even ending with a montage of them working with UNR student dancers in a piece that was created hours before the live performance on Oct. 27.
The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company was the second to last performance for the fall session of UNR’s Performing Arts Series. On Nov. 12, the Mexican brass band “M5” will take the virtual stage to perform a COVID-19 friendly segment of their own.
With M5 being the last group to visit UNR this fall, the spring semester is still up in the air with in-person performances.
In recapping the beginning of The Performing Arts Series, Zeldner wanted audiences to know this is the 60th anniversary of the series, and that the pandemic has changed a lot of the initial plans in bringing live concerts to UNR.
“This is a really challenging year for all of us, especially the performing arts,” Zeldner said in a video statement in August.
Zeldner expressed her excitement in exploring the idea of in-person concerts in the spring semester, but with the recent announcements of online instruction, that may not happen either.
“Looking ahead to 2021, we hope to hold in-person performances February through April,” Zeldner said in the August video. “If this is not possible, we will produce one-of-a-kind virtual programs with all of our visiting artists.”
The university has heavily relied on viewer support in these virtual times, and while things may stay virtual for a while longer, the Performing Arts Series will not stop—just adapt.
Students can still look forward to seeing and listening to exotic and exciting musicians in the spring. Performances, regardless of whether they’re in-person or virtual, will be showcasing the Irish Band Goitse, the vocal ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock and Jazz Vocalist Michael Mayo.
The new year may not bring an end to the pandemic just yet, but students still have a lot to look forward to this spring 2021 semester.
Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilieemeree.