Virtual dance residency a success

Christa Knipes, Arts & Entertainment editor

Last week, the Mercyhurst Dance Department was gearing up for their first virtual residency. Finally, on the evening of Aug. 28, choreographer Steve Rooks Zoomed into the Palmer studio for the first time, ready to set his choreography on an eager – if not nervous – group of dancers.

From the television mounted on the wall, Rooks demonstrated the movement in real-time. The students did their best to pick up on any details, trying to transfer the steps into their own bodies as efficiently as possible.

Learning choreography this way came with its own special set of challenges. Firstly, the TV onto which Rooks was cast was behind all of the dancers, so any time they needed to watch him for movement queues they had to turn around. Secondly, his camera mirrored all of his directions, so his right side looked like the left. Dancers had to learn his choreography going to one side, and then transfer to the other.

This problem, however, was quickly solved. Kaitlyn Culp, senior double major in Dance and Accounting, described that there was an easy fix that just needed some thought. “By the second day we realized if we looked at the TV through the mirror, the image would be correct,” Culp said. “I was foreseeing all kinds of potential technical difficulties, like lag, audio problems and glitching,”

Hannah Burneka, senior double major in Dance and Psychology, said. “In reality, the residency went a lot smoother than I originally expected.”

Though they were using Zoom, this hybrid structure was not the only way the dancers remained within the COVID-19 protocol. “[Rooks] split the cast into two ‘pods’ with six dancers in each pod,” said Burneka. “Typically only one group was allowed out on the floor at a time as the other group stood along the sides of the room in designated areas.”

Along with present times, the entire piece is “inspired by some of the political issues and civil unrest that is happening right now,” Culp said. “The first movement has a voiceover about nationality and the importance and right to that, which I think is a really powerful inspiration for the movement vocabulary.” Though the dancers wish they could have a live audience, Culp hopes that audiences remember that art is not only an in-person experience. “Art can be just as powerful and mean as much, if not more, if viewed through a screen,” Culp said.

Burneka echoed this. “Despite all of the COVID restrictions and technological barriers, Rook was able to find ways to use these things to his advantage and still create his vision… [this] just shows, we make do with what we’re given in life.”