Fredonia professor, Dance majors create work for Buffalo Pride Week

Doug Osborne-Coy
group of dancers

Dance majors performed “Birds Excited Into Flight,” during Buffalo Pride Week, including (from left) Tommy John, Randi Fay, Leah Ohlen, Mikayla Johnson, Aja Pandey, Kory Randels, Emma Voit and Assistant Professor Anthony Alterio (missing is Tiffani Robinson).

For an artist, the opportunity to perform is always special. In the current climate of COVID 19 restrictions, such opportunities take on even more significance.

So, when a professor and his group of Fredonia Dance majors had the opportunity to perform at Buffalo Pride Week in late August, they made the most of it.

“It was really special, especially to be working with students again in person,” said Anthony M. Alterio, assistant professor of Dance, who created the work the students performed. “We need dance right now. Performance is powerful. It gets us out of our heads and get us thinking - and out of our norms. And the norm right now is not too bright, so if we can share and connect, we need to take advantage of that every chance we get. That’s what the piece and performance did for those who were involved and for those who came to view it.”

The genesis of the performance came when Alterio was commissioned by a local artist in Buffalo to make work for an online Queer festival called “Pride Inside.”

“After that opportunity, I wondered about what other Queer opportunities there were for artists not only in Buffalo, but during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he explained. “That’s when I came across Buffalo Pride.”

While the group had postponed its traditional festival this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was still encouraging people to submit community-based events for the week the festival was supposed to take place. Alterio made a proposal that was accepted and he set out to create the work that became “Birds Excited Into Flight.”

“Now this title is nothing original and is actually the title of the sculpture where the performance took place,” he explained. “I decided to name the piece the same as the sculpture because the performance centered around the sculpture, so it became the main inspiration for the work.”

Buffalo-based artist Larry Griffis created the sculpture in 1980. It is located on Bidwell Parkway in the city. 

“When researching locations to have this site-specific performance, I came across the sculpture and it invoked something within me instantly - something I hadn’t felt for a while,” Alterio said. “Since COVID has happened, I really haven’t felt like creating anything, but spending time with the sculpture, the publicness of it, the boldness of the materials it is made of, the shape, it all made me feel connected to something bigger than me.”

Alterio mixed the inspiration the sculpture provided with the concept of pride.

“Simply put, the piece is all about pride,” he said. “What does it mean to have pride? Why do we hold onto pride? How does pride affect us? How do we show pride? How do we unlock our own pride within?”

Eight Bachelor of Fine Arts Dance majors were involved in the process, but Alterio noted only seven were able to perform because one student had to quarantine after returning from out of state.

“We rehearsed through Zoom for three weeks (for a total of six hours) and then spent two days at the site for a total of four hours before the performance date,” Alterio said. “We practiced social distancing in that no one touched each other in rehearsals, in the movement or even in the piece. And everyone wore their masks the entire time for rehearsals and performance.”

The dancers who performed were Thomas R. John, Leah R. Von Ohlen, Aja M. Pandey, Randi N. Fay. Emma K. Voit, Tiffani L. Robinson and Mikayla K. Johnson. Allyson Hineman was a part of the process, but didn’t get to perform due to the quarantine requirement. The performance took place on Aug. 20. 

“It was great to create something outside, site specific and out of the proscenium stage platform,” Alterio said. “The audience that did show up got to sit or stand anywhere they liked. They were able to enjoy the performance from multiple angles, which was cool to watch. No one person had the same view or experience watching. It was a good feeling to do what I love in a different way and be reminded why I create and why I dance and why I teach. I am so incredibly thankful for the students and them taking advantage of this opportunity. Without them it would not have existed.”

Alterio also thanked Paula J. Peters, a fellow professor of Dance at Fredonia, who encouraged him to make this piece.

“I had said I don't really make site specific work, but she talked me into it and I am glad she did,” Alterio said. “She has always supported me and encouraged me in my work. I’m very thankful for that, because not a lot of people know or understand what I do here at SUNY Fredonia.”

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