Faced with this year’s unprecedented circumstances, the Berkeley High School (BHS) Dance Production (DP) class embraced a unique opportunity to explore digital dance in its annual performance, which will take place on April 23.
Linda Carr, who teaches DP, explained the online model for the 2021 showcase. “Each student has made their own digital dance, and [the audience] will be seeing 17 short films that [range] from one to four minutes long,” said Carr. She also touched on the intentions set by each dancer for their work: “Each piece takes you on its own ride. Some of them are funny, some are somber or serious, and some are celebrations of movement. Others are like mini movies that have their own storyline, and dance is one element of that story.”
Dancers worked independently and over Zoom to create a storyline for their film and experiment with choreography. Carr was able to distribute special camera equipment to the dancers to enhance their filming.
There are currently 18 students taking the DP class. With one group of two and the rest working solo, the dance film festival will feature a multitude of stories. DP at BHS is a unique class, in which dancers undergo an audition process the year prior to attain a spot for the following year. Students work throughout the year to create choreography and learn from guest artists.
However, with online learning, DP’s plans were turned upside down. “Dance relies on in-person communication and teamwork; [this year] it has been harder to collaborate with other students,” said Sasha Alley, a senior at BHS in her second year of DP. Zoom classes and rehearsals made an in-person production impossible, so Carr and her students decided on the digital dance festival instead.
Alley described the process she and her classmates went through in creating her digital piece, saying, “I am working with another student, but most of the [films] are independent. We made a maximum of 4-minute long dance films that we directed and created ourselves, and then edited to put into a compilation.” Alley commented on the benefits of the online showcase and how it allowed her to experiment with the choreography in a new way. “Because we are doing it ourselves, we can make [the dance] look exactly how we want it to, without any restriction because there is no stage,” she said.
BHS junior and DP dancer Julianna Prudente also saw benefits to the online model. “The [experience] gave me a better idea of what I wanted to major in, in college. And the project was very interesting,” she said.
Carr brought in guest artists to help students create and revise their films over the first and second semesters. Lindsay Gauthier, a filmmaker based in San Francisco, connected with the students to implement her camera skills into their projects.
“We were able to have [Gauthier] come in for three classes in the fall, where she gave us a crash course in film making and editing, specifically for digital dance,” said Carr. The sessions with Gauthier and other guest teachers, on top of Carr and the student’s prior knowledge of filming for dance, collectively prepared the dancers to make exceptional films.
To get an idea of what viewers can expect to see on Friday, one must only look into the choreography of Philippa Kennedy, another junior in DP. Kennedy described her dance film to Jacket, saying, “For my dance, I was inspired by life in quarantine. My first half is filmed at home, and it emulated what everyday life is like in quarantine. Then I go back to bed and have a dream sequence, where I am at the beach, and it feels very freeing.” The audience can watch the festival live on Zoom at 8:00 PM, as well as a recorded version after the show. Carr and her DP students have worked in and out of class to create unique dance films for all of us to watch on April 23. Prepare to see the same level of intense emotion and dazzling talent for DP dancers as in previous years, with an online twist.