It’s possible you’re missing the New Year’s Eve party you would have had if this had been anything resembling a normal year, but it only stands to reason that some of most innovative partiers in the state are more than prepared to bring the December 31 festivities online.
I spoke with some of the artists at TEN31 Productions and the Metamorphosis Dance Company all about how they’ve managed to soldier on in 2020 and what we should expect from their first virtual end-of-the-year spectacular.
Kevin Broccoli (Motif): When putting together an event for NYE this year, how much did the events of the year inform the way you wanted to construct it? I feel like NYE is going to be so bittersweet because everybody is excited to leave this year behind, but celebrating is going to be both difficult and seem difficult with the amount of loss we’ve had. I’d love to know what the conversations were about how to approach putting together the evening.
Alicia Wilder (Choreographer): When we discussed the idea of applying for the Rhode Island Commerce HArT Grant to put on a performance for the end of the year, we were trying to find a way to spread joy and cater an event specifically to the virtual world. 2020 was overall meant to be a year full of celebration at TEN31, as it was our 20th anniversary year. In May we had plans to host a retrospective concert, highlighting pieces that had been produced by MDC over the last six years, as part of our contribution to the celebration. We decided not to focus the performance on something holiday specific, but instead as a celebration of all that we have accomplished that brought us to this point, and all the hard work the dance company members have put in to keep the space and programming alive through the pandemic. The pieces were chosen based on overall visual impact, smaller cast sizes, and to showcase a wide range of what MDC has to offer.
The process of putting the pieces themselves together has presented us with a new challenge. We had to take all the contact and partnering out of the work, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. In particular, the piece “Natural Enemies” was 90% partnering and contact. The way these parameters have evolved the piece is truly remarkable. The distance between the dancers is greater, but it in turn increases their mental connection, which makes the space between them vibrate and really brings new life to the piece. I will be working closely with Montage Media Productions, the videography team for this project, to add the camera into the work, almost as an additional dancer. We want the show to have a concert dance feel, but the beauty of video production allows us to take the audience deeper into the work, and really immerse them. My overall challenge, or goal, has been to navigate how the restrictions can send us in new directions and create an immersive experience through film and movement.
KB: It’s so exciting that dance is the focal point of the event. Will this be brand new material or work you’ve been putting together previous to this event being planned?
AW: I agree! The pieces in this show span from works created in 2014 through fall 2019. All of the pieces have been reworked slightly over the course of this process, but nothing has been created brand new for this show. However, most of the pieces were presented at private events, so this is the first time they will be performed for a public audience.
KB: This will actually be the first dance event I’ve watched digitally since the pandemic began. Can you talk about how you factored in the digital element?
AW: The show will start with a brief introduction and welcome from me, as the dance company director. Then the pieces will be presented one after the other, still having the same feel that an in-person dance concert would have. We have shortened the overall program to fit into a 45min time block, because it is my experience that shorter broadcasts work better on a virtual streaming platform. It’s easy to be distracted when you’re in your own home. To add to that, we’ve really thought out how the camera, and in turn the audience, can become another mover in the show. This gives an audience the chance to see details and nuances they may not have seen from their seats in a theater, and also makes them feel like the piece is happening around them. The camera angles to me are so important. Being mindful of how you are visually telling the story, and keeping the audience engaged as well. We could have set the camera up with one wide view and let the audience view it just as if they were in theater, but I wanted to find ways to take it to the next level. My mindset during this whole pandemic is to find the positive. To look for ways to grow and build in the boxes we have been put in, both literally on the dance floor in divided spaces, and mentally. Setting restrictions is often used as a choreographic tool. It’s how you utilize those restrictions that creates the magic.
KB: It looked like the event at Roger Williams Park this Halloween was a big success. Did that teach you anything about how to move forward with events like that until we can return to some kind of normal?
Eric Auger (Co-Founder/Artist): Creating a haunted house type of event that adhered to COVID-19 social distancing parameters felt daunting at first, but after having success with a few outdoor, community-based events earlier in the fall, we felt prepared. Adapting our costumes to include full face coverings was the easy part, as it was just an extension of the existing costume in material and design. Our biggest challenge was to figure out how to keep the energy transference of our performance intact with our audience while socially distancing. The Museum of Natural History (where the event took place) had already cleverly designed a one-way path through all of their galleries, so we took what they had already established and embellished it with some living tableaus presented here and there, all socially distanced, of course. What we learned is that ‘the show can go on,’ it just takes a bit more time to add in these new extra precautionary steps to our normal show guidelines, guaranteeing the safety of our staff and the audience. More importantly, we realized that our performances can still resonate with our audience, even with all of these restrictions; more than ever, people want to make pretend with us, because they have been restricted in their homes for so long. We had a lot of ‘thank you for doing this’ comments as people were exiting.
KB: How has the company been adapting overall? Ten31 relies so heavily on events and obviously winter is going to be tough for anything indoors. Are you making plans for more digital events?
AW: Overall TEN31 has been doing alright. We have an amazing group of artists who work with us, and are willing to try new things! We’ve had a few events here and there, but the biggest thing for us has been the ability to shift gears and grow the dance space, and what I hope to soon be an arts and performance hub.
MDC has a Youth Program (MDYP) that is now in its second season. We did lose a few students, due to having to shift virtual, but the program is still going strong and I have a feeling we’ll be back to where we were at the end of last year soon.
Our open adult classes had just been one class on Tuesday nights. With the shift of things in the pandemic we now have 10 open adult wellness & dance classes running regularly, which in January we are planning to increase to 14. We offer hybrid classes, so people can come in person and follow all safety regulations, or they can take class from home. Our classes include: yoga, barré, strength and conditioning, jazz, contemporary, ballet, hip-hop and Latin dance. We’ve been able to bring in outside local artists to the teaching roster, and we can’t wait to keep building that.
As for digital events, we don’t have any specific shows in mind, but are setting ourselves up with the ability to stream not only classes, but performances as well. We hope to have space for not just MDC and TEN31 to put on shows, but for local artists as well.
TEN31 has also added some new skills to our performance roster, like virtual hosts for your meetings, conferences and parties. To pre-recorded or live performances to fill virtual events with entertainment. We have worked very closely with the clients for the few events we have done to make sure that our performers and the guests are kept safe. The winter does make things tough for indoor events, but we’ve been working to find ways for our outdoor characters to be a part of festivities as well.
NYE with Metamorphosis Dance Company will be streaming live on December 31 @ 8pm. Admission is **Free.** For more information, go to ten31productions.com