Fredonia Dance Ensemble presents virtual version of Merrins Chamber Series

Doug Osborne-Coy
dancers on stage

When COVID-19 became a global pandemic in early 2020, the Dance faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Fredonia promptly decided all Dance performances would be virtual for the academic year of 2020-21.

“As Dance often involves partner work, sweat, heavy breathing and close contact, the Dance faculty did not want to put themselves, the students or the community in unsafe situations,” Anthony Alterio, an assistant professor of Dance at Fredonia explained. “We had no idea that we would still be in a pandemic by the time fall semester started, but we didn’t want to take the chance by planning for in-person and changing course last minute.”

Thus, Alterio had a clear course when he began his work as the director for the Fredonia Dance Ensemble’s Merrins Chamber Series fall production, which will be presented virtually on Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday Nov. 14, at 7 p.m.

The concert will feature four pieces created and filmed separately in advance and then brought together in a comprehensive format for viewing on the above dates. A link to register to watch the free performances can be found at the Dance at SUNY Fredonia Facebook page (facebook.com/fredoniadance).

“Although we are not a Screendance program and the Dance faculty are not Screendance artists, we thought it be a great challenge for all involved to dive into this other medium of the Dance form,” Alterio said. “Screendance has been around for well over 30 years. In 1999, the International Screendance Festival began and in 2010 the publication of The International Journal of Screendance started. Simply put, Screendance is dance made for film, or the craft of choreography and cinematography as one. We aren’t doing anything new to the form, but we are doing something new in terms of our own personal research and expertise.”

The four works are “Media Experiment #7” by Donald C. Shorter, the dance ensemble’s fall guest artist; “Disequilibrium” by Paula J. Peters, assistant professor of Dance at Fredonia; “SYCOPHANT” by Alterio; and “Turbulence” by Angela DiFiore, adjunct professor of Dance at Fredonia. All 36 of Fredonia’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance majors are involved in this Merrins Chamber Series event.

“The Dance faculty’s main hope was to involve the students in another medium of Dance than they are accustomed too. Our students know how to perform and make work on a proscenium stage,” Alterio said. “This opportunity allows them to have different experiences and work in ways that they have not before. The field of Dance has always worked in collaboration with technology, but because of COVID we are seeing the reliance that Dance is having on technology in order to survive. The skills the students are learning throughout the choreographic process for this production will be carried with them well after the pandemic is over. In addition, these skills can translate into many other fields and jobs beyond the Dance realm. Technology and Dance are not going anywhere anytime soon.”

According to Alterio, the number one challenge in the creative process was adapting to remote rehearsal via the Zoom app.

“In the studio, we can ask students permission if we can correct structural alignment or create choreography where people touch and interact,” he said. “Also, in person you can see the body in three dimensions rather than just two dimensions on the screen. Just having the two dimensions can complicate the process of giving corrections.”

At the same time, Alterio said this process is an opportunity to expose Dance students to something new and unique.

“This is something they will remember for the rest of their lives,” Alterio noted. “As I stated earlier, our students know how to perform because they have at least six opportunities to do so within the Dance program each year. However, before COVID it rarely happened through film, video or Zoom.”

Alterio encourages the public to take advantage of the opportunity to sign on for this free event.

“The work that has been produced by the choreographers and the performance of the students is exceptional,” he said. “We hope that people from all over are able to sign in to watch the Fredonia Dance Ensemble and join us for the interactive Q & A after the show.”

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