In March of 2019, the School of Theatre and Dance performed their last, live Dance Tech show in their new theatre. Until the current Fall semester, the school has had to perform all their productions completely online.
Doing their performances, practices and classes virtually was challenging for the school, as dance requires much in-person interaction and communication. Not having a live audience, and not being in the same space to see people’s reactions to a piece is difficult for a choreographer, said Kyla Olson, the interim head of dance from Lubbock.
“Building something and then waiting for it to go out, and then not seeing how the audience is experiencing it, was really difficult for me as a choreographer,” Olson said. “But we're starting to get back into our regular kind of season of having things in person with, you know, some modifications to make it safe for people.”
Dance provides performers not only a form of exercise, but a way to relax and have fun. Transitioning to a virtual form of dancing and creativity within your home was challenging for some, as this sort of thing has never happened before.
Students and teachers were forced to dance in their dorms or living rooms, Olson said. People were knocking over lamps, and it wasn’t ideal.
“For us, like, dance is so sacred and when we go into the studio, that's like our moment to relax and let go and dig into the thing that provides us the most joy. And to not have that felt really strange for me,” Olson said.
It was an odd transition because no one in the School of Theatre and Dance had been in a pandemic before, said Amanda May, a third-year dance major from Round Rock, Texas. Home was for relaxing and self-care, and though dance is fun for her, it was hard to bridge the two.
Through the adjustments to online teaching and dancing, May said she found the process to be an educational opportunity, too, to see how her teachers dealt with the process, as she plans to pursue a career in teaching.
“While, it’s been difficult, it's had some setbacks, I feel like it's overall like, I think expanded our opportunities as a field. It's been really, really, I think, empowering in a way to know a pandemic can’t stop our art from functioning,” May said.
Instead of their live performances, the School of Theatre and Dance decided to have both yearly productions, the Fall Dance Festival and Dance Tech, made into videos.
It’s different to create dance film versus dance on film, Olson said. With film work, you can frame what you want the audience to view. For example, you can zoom in and focus on one part of the dancer or zoom out and be in the center space. This was a positive that Olson said she found during this transition.
Though all the performances were through video, the School of Theatre and Dance was still able to provide a way to get their audiences of out their houses. For one of their showings among the pandemic, the school had booked the Stars and Stripes Drive-In Theatre.
“It actually got people out of their houses, whereas every other performance that we get, people watch in their houses,” Olson said. “So, it was nice. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you for getting me out of my house and like, sitting in my car to watch something and like, feel like I'm a part of the community stuff’.”
The School of Theatre of Dance has much planned now that they are back in-person. The school just opened their season with their first play production, called In a Word, and will soon be showcasing another play called Bike America.
After Bike America, Spring Awakening will be showcased, the first live musical of the year. The school is excited to be working with an orchestra again, as well as singing and dancing again, Olson said.
“We're in the process of building (Spring Awakening). And then we have Fall Dance Festival, which we're going to be performing at the Firehouse Theatre at LHUCA, downtown. Which will - which is going to be exciting,” Olson said.
There will be more plays this coming Spring, Olson said, as well as another musical and Dance Tech in March.
To finish the season, the School of Theatre and Dance will have Frontier Fest, which contains all student performances and creations.
“(Frontier Fest) is kind of a festival that is a week-long and it's celebrating all of our students who are making work and performing work." Olsen said. "So, I love that that's like our season closer because it's really celebrating the students that we have here.”
Sarah Minjarez, a fourth-year dance major from Austin, said she is excited for Fall Dance Festival, as it’s been something she has been looking forward to since she was a freshman.
The festival is a student choreography-based performance with juniors and seniors, Minjarez said. The performers create a five-to-eight-minute dance that goes along with the seasons overall theme, this year being Awakenings.
“I'm really looking forward to Fall Dance Festival, as well, because I'm stepping into the choreographer role,” Mekenzie Thornton, a third-year dance major from Hutto said. “It's been a really fun process to, you know, cast people, to hold rehearsals, and, you know, just watch your choreography and your story and your piece just grow and develop like, through this process.”
Fall Dance Festival is something May said she has also been looking forward to for a while, as she gets to be a choreographer in the show this year.
May was a part of the Fall Dance Festival last year and said it was a cool experience seeing it once it was finished. May said she enjoyed being a part of and seeing how all the students of the program came together and overcame the pandemic times, while creating art.
“What's especially cool about the School of Theatre and Dance is that it changed this course to where we actually get to put our foot in a lot of different pools. So, not only are we choreographers, we’re also the lighting designers for the show, basically. Because we get to choose our lighting cues. We also get to learn about costume design and that process,” May said. “We’re getting the full spectrum of what it means to be a part of creating a show.”
With this season’s theme being Awakenings, the school is able to welcome back their audiences, while also getting back into their space and their craft of making theatre and dance, Olson said.
The previous year was dark, Olson said, in multiple ways. So, this dance season may help people to start embracing the hopefulness of the world moving forward.
“Each student kind of takes a different approach to the theme. So, it's really interesting to see how they're each interpreting that and how they're utilizing their past to convey that sort of awakening idea,” Olson said.
May said she is grateful for Tech’s dance programs as they have provided her many opportunities for performance and collaboration among all the arts.
Tech’s dance program has allowed Thornton to connect with people both inside and outside of her dance classes. Thornton said her favorite memories within the programs, are the friendships and connections she’s made over the years.
“I'm seeing their progression over three or four years and seeing their creative voices start to, you know, develop,” Olson said. “Seeing what they have to say about the world through dance, I think, is the thing that's most exciting for me.”