Filmed GISS dance final creates new possibilities

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BY ELIZABETH NOLAN

DRIFTWOOD STAFF

Continuing prohibitions against group gatherings have seen performing art companies of all stripes moving to online platforms. 

That scenario is no different for students taking dance at Gulf Islands Secondary School. While their end-of-term project would normally involve creating works and presenting them on stage at ArtSpring, the spring 2021 cohort has produced an unlisted YouTube playlist entitled Dancing In, Dancing Out instead.  

GISS dance teacher Sonia Langer explains in an introduction: “Because the theatres have shuttered us out, we needed to pivot and reinvent. With reinvention comes innovation, and with innovation comes unique challenges. These dancers, aged 14-19, overcame these challenges and produced a wonderful, deeply moving collection of choreographic works.”

“In the end, we’re so proud of what we got. We’ve made some great films,” Langer told the Driftwood. “With no equipment, with no supplies, we figured out how to be filmmakers.”

“It was very special,” said graduating student Amaru Seki, who hopes to go on to study dance at Simon Fraser University. 

COVID rules impacted more than just the medium for sharing the final project, which created both challenges and opportunities. Students were also limited in what types of choreography they could create during the pandemic.

“Everything was different. There wasn’t really anything about dance class or the performance that was what we’ve done in past years at all,” said Chloe Haigh, who is graduating this spring and has taken dance every year since Grade 9. “We wear masks; we had to be apart. We couldn’t create any pieces like duets where you were touching, because we couldn’t touch each other. It was like learning a new language in a way.”

Physical connection was replaced with eye contact, and the choreographers had to find alternatives to dynamic elements like lifts.

“It was so sad, and less energetic. It’s a completely different vibe,” Seki said. 

The mask mandate introduced by the province during the past quarter term additionally impacted students’ physical stamina (being hard on the cardiovascular system) and ability to focus. April’s warm weather was a gift since they could remove their masks outside. 

Filming of the final pieces took place in the dance studio with theatrical lighting but also on the basketball court, in the forest and on the beach, and in downtown Ganges. Students could choreograph and dance in any style from classical ballet to urban/hip hop. 

Having the opportunity to perform outside presented some logistical challenges, such as the uneven ground at Beddis Beach. Not having the stage setting also made it more difficult at first to include students in the class who have disabilities, but it also added new elements. Presentation of the final pieces changed dramatically from the usual projects, and not just because the on-stage performance at ArtSpring could not take place. Rather than sticking to a single-shot straight recording, students employed creative editing techniques to make things more dynamic. 

Seki edited many of the class pieces and he enjoyed how dance class transformed into a multimedia learning experience. He filmed one scene in the GISS cafeteria after working hard in that kitchen for his 10-week foods course.

For their piece called Eastside, Haigh, Seki, Sarah Weis and Mischa Engel Larrain used the public library’s architecture to frame their dancing. The video scenes then move to locations that are meaningful to each of the dancers. 

“We aren’t performing in front of people, but we still got to make it as cool as we possibly could with what we could deal with,” Haigh observed. 

Haigh and Seki agreed it was difficult to create work that no one might ever see, especially since they are both graduating after being part of the school dance community for many semesters. 

Being able to take dance at all during COVID is something the students greatly appreciated, noting not all schools have offered it. Extra long classes under the quarter system may have been mentally and physically exhausting but they seemed to inspire more collaboration between students, who had the time to work things out together in class instead of creating the choreography at home and coming back to school to teach it the next day. 

“I feel like in the end, as grads, our finished project was very satisfying,” Haigh said. “I feel like in the end it was all necessary, and not one person in our class would regret doing it.”

“Under all these difficult circumstances, in a global pandemic, I’m proud of what they did,” Langer said. “I hope that people watch these pieces and receive the gifts the students have shared.”

Anyone interested in seeing Dancing In, Dancing Out should email slanger@sd64.org to receive the unlisted playlist link. Langer said it would be great to hear back from viewers with their feedback and responses since the students missed the immediate feedback of live performance.  

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