DanceWise takes Covid-friendly to the next level

Julianna Morgan (C’21) dances in “My Future” by Macy Ninness (C’21). Photo courtesy of Robin Kate Davis (C’21).

By Maggie Lorenzen
Staff Writer

Over the past week, Sewanee Dance held four performances of this year’s annual DanceWise production. It was offered to up to 35 students, faculty, and staff in-person, and anyone else with the link via Zoom. Audience members were able to reserve a seat ahead of time, and all performances were completely booked before opening night. 

Those watching virtually via a Zoom conference room could hear the audience and music, which created a feeling of being in the live audience. They could also send comments like shout-outs and praise via the chat for all participants to view. 

29 student dancers and 11 student choreographers contributed to the 7th edition of DanceWise and took complete advantage of the perceived setback of most viewers being virtual. In many numbers, including the opening songs, the dancers were on a massive screen at the back of the stage. Dancers then appeared on stage and not only danced in front of the screen, but interacted with the dancers projected. One number even included a student on stage slow dancing with a performer on the screen. 

The wonderful artistry was combined with a reverence to the current situation, and all performers and audience members wore their masks the entire time. Performers maintained social distancing by dancing six feet apart, with the exception of one duet whose participants were roommates. Pieces were comprised of contemporary, tap, jazz, spoken word/poetry, and even some acro elements to cover a wide range of dance and showcase the versatility of the performers and choreographers. Props ranging from toilet paper rolls to picnic blankets to chairs were used also in many pieces. 

It was a very fluid production— each number gracefully passed to the next and from screen to live beautifully. One notable piece was a number towards the beginning of the hour-and-fifteen-minute production was somewhat of a commentary of the beginning of the pandemic. Portrayed by three dancers hoarding toilet paper rolls, they slowly became more frantic in their choreography to illustrate the effects of the pandemic on mental wellbeing. Another tap piece’s only music was the clicking of a clock in the background, which allowed the dancers’ footwork to take the foreground. 

The production included solos, duets, triplets, and groups, and costumes were designed in cooperation between the choreographers and four community members and active participants in the Sewanee Dance and Production worlds. Lights and colors were used in company with the music to construe the moods of the pieces, and each number had its own message, gracefully portrayed by the performers. 

The audition process occurred earlier in the semester, with guest choreographers and current Sewanee faculty and students choosing dancers they wanted for specific numbers. “It was very much a real audition,” Lily Oakley (C’24) noted. “I worked hard to express the steps in the way the choreographers wanted, which was especially difficult with a mask on. I adapted and gave what was needed of me to perform at the level they wanted.” 

Most dancers were pleased with their performances, and many are excited for the next time they get to showcase their talents. After Katherine Harwell (C’24) was asked about how she felt the event was executed and how comfortable she felt in performing in such a stressful time, she replied, “It’s good to be performing again.”