Dancescape goes digital

Teresa Anderson

Winona State University hosted its annual Dancescape festival as a virtual film event last weekend, a first for the festival.

Dancescape has never been a film festival before. Dancers, student choreographers and film studies students collaborated to host the event virtually for the first time in its 31-year history.

The festival adapted to COVID-19 by screening pre-recorded short dance films, rented on-demand for one weekend only.

Erin Drummond, an assistant professor in the Theater and Dance Department at Winona State and the director of Dancescape, said the event has always been an annual live concert dance production in the past, occurring on the main stage in the university’s DuFresne Performing Arts Center.

“We miss rehearsing, we miss being on stage, of course,” Drummond said. “But at the same time, people have made some really beautiful art. I’m excited for people to see it.”

Drummond proposed the idea of a dance film festival in August, knowing a performance on the main stage was likely to be shut down due to COVID. Although unprecedented, some students enjoyed the new aspect of creating a film.

Drummond said the move online provided new, creative options to dancers and has inspired similar possibilities for the festival’s future performances.

“I want to open up the possibility for future years of people making dance films if they’re drawn to that,” Drummond said. “Maybe people want to create a dance film that’s projected on-stage alongside live dances, and that could be an option for people.”

However, filming a dance versus performing live on stage follows a different set of rules. Student choreographers, who develop their Dancescape ideas beginning in August, adjusted their routines to fit a screen-only performance. With limited rehearsal time with dancers, expedited filming happened to meet deadlines and to beat the cold weather.

Rebecca Braun, a third-year I-Design student and second year choreographer for Dancescape, said the condensed time schedule was a challenge.

“We had three to four rehearsals to choreograph and have the full dance, which normally we have four months to choreograph and practice,” Braun said. “So this year it was more so just, ‘here’s your choreography, this is as good as it’s going to get.’”

COVID halted production many times as several dancers had to quarantine.

Everyone wore masks, and to maintain social distancing during rehearsals, students practiced on Zoom, recorded their films outside or limited the number of dancers in dance studios.

“You had to stay in a six-foot square that’s taped off so there’s no moving around. There’s no going across the floor dancing with people,” Braun said. “There’s not a lot of creative freedom when that happens.”

Posting films online also brought a new problem: copyright. Many student choreographers had chosen popular songs to perform to, but had to switch music close to completion once the festival went virtual.

Erin Radenmacher, a third-year nursing student and first-year choreographer, said clearing copyright challenged both dancers and choreographers.

“I can’t get ahold of Sam Smith unfortunately, and a very short notice of time was very stressful,” Radenmacher said.

Jayde Grass, a third-year elementary education student and second-year choreographer, said previous advice helped her overcome this hurdle.

“One of our dance professors said, ‘Never feel like you need your piece to fit the music; make the music fit your piece,’” Grass said.

Grass choreographed to a cover recorded by a friend, while Radenmacher used a friend’s original music.

In previous years, performers spent a week running tech and dress rehearsals on stage, preparing for the big production, but this year’s Dancescape required a different timeline.

“We’ve had to have everything ready a lot sooner so that we can get material over to the editor and uploaded to our streaming platform,” Drummond said. “I’ve been managing different things, making sure everyone’s edits are ready and making sure everything is working well with the internet.”

Despite the complications that arose from going virtual, the students created an environment of innovation and patience.

“What impresses me the most is that they’ve been so kind to eachother and supportive,” Drummond said. “We wouldn’t have made these films without these restrictions. They were born out of the particular time with these particular obstacles, there’s something really beautiful about that.”

One dance film from the festival was featured in Winona’s local Frozen River Film Festival and others were submitted to the American College Dance Association, another annual dance festival.

Not as many dancers were part of Dancescape compared to last year due to many dancers graduating, but luckily, many first-year students joined. Auditions for the upcoming Senior Show will occur on Feb. 17 and 18, offering another chance for dancers and choreographers to be part of a show.

During the first two weeks of school this coming August, Dancescape will hold open auditions.

Drummond emphasized that dance is not an elitist activity.

“We always try to find a place for everyone,” Drummond said. “It’s really about inclusivity. We want people to come be part of it who have all kinds of different backgrounds or no dance experience at all, and we adapt every role to the person.”

Next year’s Dancescape may be virtual or in person, but Drummond said she plans to have rehearsals every week to build community and hopefully perform live.