With in-person rehearsals suspended during Covid-19, some choreographers are adapting their practice to an online platform. As dance artists around the city (myself included) grapple with how to rehearse under quarantine, I became curious about how other artists were approaching it. I spoke with Artistic Directors Alex Ung (The Guild Dance Company), Melissa Riker (Kinesis Project) and Alice Gosti (MALACARNE) to gain more insight into how different choreographers are readjusting their rehearsals to the digital world.
Prior to the suspension of in-person rehearsals, Ung was finishing up an evening-length work entitled el Camino, which was set to premiere in May 2020 and is now rescheduled for October 2020. During digital rehearsals, Ung has been dedicating time to working out logistics with the dancers. They talk through transitions between different moments in the work and about how much time they predict needing for entrances and exits. In order to keep track of casting, music and performance order for the different pieces that make up this work, Ung uses Google Sheets and screen sharing while on Zoom rehearsal.
Ung has taken advantage of Zoom’s breakout rooms feature to split dancers up into smaller groups where they can review movement together. He has also experimented with teaching new material. His process for this so far is to film himself performing the choreography, make that video accessible to the dancers, and then set aside some time in the rehearsals for dancers to learn off of the pre-recorded video while he is available to answer any questions. Ung explained that this method allows him to observe the dancers while they are learning the choreography, and offer pointers on the movement.
To supplement partnering work that’s not able to be set over a video camera, Ung exchanges choreographic inspiration with his dancing partner. He says, “I am finding videos to study of other choreography that’s similar to what I would like” and he sends these videos to his partner to watch. His partner then suggests similar videos that they might draw ideas from, and the two continue to share insights back and forth. This play allows for research time outside of developed choreography.
MALACARNE, Alice Gosti’s performance company, is also making use of prerecorded video during online rehearsals. Gosti selects dance films for the artists to watch together, so that they can look at specific elements of these films that might be helpful to them right now. She reports while she initially thought it would just be a time to show the artists what she liked about certain films, “[i]t’s actually turned into me learning a lot from how other people see those videos.” She says that it has become a dialogue in which artists reflect back what they see in their own words, which is teaching her why she likes aspects that she didn’t previously understand her affinity for.
Gosti views these online rehearsals as a time to experiment, and has been employing methods she developed in person to meet the challenges of rehearsing online. In live rehearsals, when a performer is not able to execute a particular movement, Gosti thinks about how they both can transform the choreographic difficulty into something else. Together, they explore what could follow from the movement, or what the movement makes the performer want to do instead. This approach to limitation has proved central to how Gosti deals with the difficulties of working online. As she explains it, she has “this value system that I talk about all the time inside of process or teaching. This is the exact same situation….the ‘problem’ now is we can’t be in the same room, and we can’t be in the same room with an audience. So instead of seeing that as a stopping point, how can I see that as…an obstacle that is going to teach me a new direction that I didn’t know about?”
Melissa Riker, Artistic Director of Kinesis Project dance theater, is also looking for new opportunities in the online platform that she didn’t have before. Specializing in large-scale site-specific dance performances, Kinesis Project is based in New York City, but frequently performs in Seattle, with casts that include both local and NYC-based dancers. One benefit of online rehearsals for Kinesis is the ability to hold consistent rehearsals with dancers from both coasts. Riker comments, “It’s wonderful to see everyone that I want in the same room, basically in the same room.” Though she wishes, of course, that they were actually in the same space, she also reflected that, “it’s a wonderful cross pollination that we would be doing in small bits in the studio by sharing video time and, in an ideal world, being able to fly the New York company to Seattle for a week intensive. But now we have these regular rehearsals where we’ll all be in the same room together for a while.”
Riker is excited to see what possibilities will arise as Kinesis begins to dig more into movement generation online. She contemplates, “If Therese [Ronco] is creating something and it moves to her couch, then does Hendri [Walujo] have a chair or a couch that he can also use as an object to put weight on? You know, what are other things that we have around us that we can use besides our bodies and as much space as we can make in our small apartments?” Riker sees another positive in this flexibility of space for the gala that Kinesis will be hosting in May. As she puts it, “the ‘room’ parameters will be exactly as they are in these rehearsals, so creatively, it is as though we are rehearsing on site. That is an unexpected bonus of creating in this environment, for this environment.”
While it is obvious that this new format cannot replace in-person rehearsals, in some cases these rehearsals can help maintain personal connections. I’ve felt this in my own work as we work to preserve community through shifting platforms. Because amidst much change, there are a surprising amount of rehearsal elements that are the same for us. We chat about our lives, warm up with some familiar tendus or improvisational prompts, and engage in the never-ending dissection of movement. We do all of this while now sharing our studios with some excitable dogs and disapproving cats. The space has changed, but the dance continues. And while I know dancers around the world are deeply missing our time spent together in the studio, it’s comforting to recognize these examples demonstrating the vigorous resilience of rehearsal practice.