There was no shortage of creativity and ingenuity in this year’s Evolution showcase, an annual collaboration between student designers and choreographers from the Department of Theatre and Dance and the School of Design and Creative Technologies. Though students didn’t have the B. Iden Payne Theatre to house their larger-than-life creations, in the true spirit of Evolution, they experimented with new forms and innovations, reimagining their performances for the virtual sphere. We’ve collected performances from this year’s month-long virtual showcase, which took place July 30-August 20, 2020, featuring selections of Evolution (Virtual Edition) performances that exhibited the resilience and adaptability of our students, as well as insight into the process of remote collaboration.

Performance 1 (July 30, 2020) – Forgotten Yesterdays

The first piece in our Evolution (Virtual Edition) showcase was inspired by the distortion of historical events as memories become fuzzy. Forgotten Yesterdays explored the ramifications of this “historical amnesia,” especially regarding the Black experience. Artists Nickolas Muckleroy, Samuel Choi and Ningmo Liu collaborated with movement, music and lighting to create an eerie, haunting effect.

Liu, an M.F.A. in Design and Technology candidate, shared his experience working as a lighting designer during their remote collaboration. According to Liu, they were only able to meet in person one time before the pandemic forced everything online. The group continued their work through online meetings, emails and texts. After Muckleroy, Choi and Liu ironed out their proposal and started shooting, Liu “gave [the] choreographer some suggestions about video shooting, including the shooting angles and lighting. After the choreographer finished the final version video, [Liu] used it to make a lighting designer version, focusing on editing visual effects, especially the color style.” The resulting vivid coloration contributed to the haunting nature of the piece.

Performance 2 (August 6, 2020) – re:home

Our second performance, re:Home, examined the new purposes that have been layered into our everyday lives as we find ourselves confined within our homes. Inspired by a curiosity about how we, and the spaces we inhabit, have been impacted by quarantine and self-isolation, re:Home sought to find an answer to the question “how is home changing?”

Annie AbuHamad, a recent Arts and Entertainment Technologies graduate from the School of Design and Creative Technologies, served as one of the composers for this piece. According to AbuHamad, the group “walked away from our only in-person meeting thinking we would be writing a piece full of interesting rhythmic sections and experimental synthesizers. However, shortly after we all met, quarantine happened and we had to meet over Zoom. … [For our first composition checkpoint] we submitted an experimental marimba piece Miki had made in his spare time. From that point on, Miki and I sent each other projects files, adding and changing sections along the way. …Our process for choosing our subject matter and the way it was presented was almost handed to us because of our new circumstances in the midst of COVID-19. Most of the dancers went to their parents’ houses and only had their phone cameras to record with; these limitations helped create a personal and sobering tone for our Evolution video.”

Performance 3 (August 13, 2020)

The third performance of Evolution (Virtual Edition) featured ethereal music, lighting and movement, alongside layered videos to create a dreamlike effect. Exploring our experiences of memory, déjà vu and dreams, this performance evoked feelings of freedom and floating on an open ocean as a means to transport audiences to a unique dreamscape.

Recent graduate and co-choreographer Georgina Garza (B.A. 2020) shared her perspective working on the piece with fellow choreographer Tori Loper and the other collaborators: “Each week Tori and I held a virtual Zoom rehearsal, where we explored various tasks with our dancers, generated movement or taught phrase work. We then provided our dancers with tasks to video and send to us during the week, … allowing us to adapt the process as we went. We also adapted to music provided by our composers as they had it and met with our lighting designer a few times for tips to give our dancers for the videos they submitted to us.” All members of Garza’s team had integral parts in developing their piece’s theme as it evolved, and Garza voiced deep gratitude for the dedication of all her collaborators.

Performance 4 (August 20, 2020)

The final performance in this year’s Evolution (Virtual Edition) explored themes of identity in a virtual space, experimenting with intimate and unique movement, music, lighting and film techniques to find new ways to represent the sense of self. Crafted in collaboration with multiple dancers, the inspiration for this piece began with options for individual choice, various lighting techniques and improvisational movement, which was then combined and presented by a single dancer (Camille Wiltz), whose movements communicated the complexities of a multi-faceted individual.

B.F.A. in Dance student Camille Wiltz shared that she was honored to spend the beginning of quarantine dancing or, more specifically, finding inspiration for guided improvisational movement in her surroundings. “This process definitely set me up to take risks, and as I took these risks, the choreographers would start to hone in on the vision of their project,” Wiltz shared. “Eventually, the choreographers asked me to record videos from certain angles with specific body parts and intentions. We used the idea of displacement and how it would feel being ‘dropped’ into my setting. This was an accessible feeling to manifest into movement since I had to move back home after living in a dorm on campus. Overall, I truly enjoyed working remotely because it challenged me to see the world as a place full of artistic opportunity. Dance is not limited to a studio or a stage. Dance is made for an inward reality to be outwardly expressed, and no pandemic can rob me of that joy.”

This year’s Evolution (Virtual Edition) projects transcended performance art, exemplifying the resilience of an entire group of students. Though most voiced that they were saddened to see the performance transfer to an online setting, it speaks volumes that they didn’t let it hinder their creative process. Instead, they made the most of what they were given, finding new ways to present their work. Though this virtual showcase was only a slice of the resulting projects, it reflects the diligence and profound creativity that all students exhibited when overcoming the hurdle of virtual performance amidst a global pandemic.