It was the last week of our 2020 winter quarter. I taught Modern Dance where 20 students had rigorous physical and interpersonal contact for 10 weeks. Their symmetrical closeness balanced vulnerability, risk-taking, enthusiastic effort, with growth in technique and creative acts of original choreography. Who could have imagined their face-to-face, side-by-side proximity in our last class on March 12th, would become an odd site?
We only reached dress rehearsal that same week for Nozze di Figaro. I created choreography on 26 outstanding singers for March performances at Merle Reskin Theater downtown. DePaul Opera Theatre, directed with an ebullient spirit by Harry Silverstein, brought in accomplished guest conductor Roberto Kalb who led the fine student orchestra. It was performance-ready with all the nuances that follow a process of rehearsal and perfection with staging, costuming, light, and set design. Their Italian voices and developed characters in the Mozart opera were remarkably refined. Without performing the famous work, the learning was still deep and wide.
Alum of DePaul’s Goodman School of Drama, Chicago Cantor Howard Freidland shares “music gives comfort and familiarity.” In this pandemic time when the structure of life totally changed, the uplifting nature of music remains. “Music creates a transformed space; beauty in any space, no matter what the space is like.” The same is true for dance.
During the global pandemic, beautiful spaces for voice and movement were found outdoors. Artistically interesting while safe with needed social distance, I created this duet throughout the summer. A neighborhood park provided grand trees, a sturdy fence, and the feel of the ground below. The music was a raw unaccompanied Avinu Malkeinu. Sung by Erika Sassman and dancer Haley Peterson, they were hungry to experience this site-specific piece.
I called these pieces One & One, for one singer and one dancer. Another duet was created in an environment of walls, doors, steps, and pillars in the next season. Music written by Noa from the beautiful Letters to Bach inspired the piece. ‘Look at Me’ was sung by Annie Reznick and Abigail Hendricks danced my choreography. Acting majors in The Theatre School, they wrote a text that began the duet. Look at me. I have so much I want to share, but I don’t know how to share it or if it’s worth sharing at all. And even if I did, would you be able to hear me? And if you could hear me, would you see me?
In contrast to the norm of teaching dance indoors, I taught on campus throughout a warm fall quarter with my percussion accompanist Lain Skow. Without contact through partnering, student work with choreography was remarkably creative. Some with us outside and others in home spaces, they were assigned to ‘partner’ with benches, sculptures, banisters, couches, chairs, and walls. The unusual limited choices made them dig deep. They discovered what they thought wasn’t possible, still connecting to each other with energy and intention.
Jewish, university and artistic communities have all found creative solutions to keep music and dance alive in the midst of a distanced masked existence. There’s a saying “necessity is the mother of invention” and there has been great invention throughout the world.
Miriam Engel, artistic director of A’ngela Dance Company created LOVEING Jerusalem. Inspired by 12 real-life love stories, she choreographed and filmed down paths of historic Israel to aisles of a grocery store and found a new depth of originality. Miriam and I will collaborate in our 5th Jerusalem/DePaul Project Still Moving by filming from Chicago and Israel, instead of on the university campus.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma regularly shares his stunning mastery for all to enjoy from home. Noah Aronson gave us the lively ‘Kol Han’ Shama’ last August while Rabbi Josh Warshawsky offered his soothing sound in a Summer Concert Series, where he integrated teaching. Joey Weisenberg and Hadar Ensemble elevated many with a full concert in New York City.
With a warm voice and spirit, Achinoam Nini produced Noa, Home Concert #5 last week while Eitan Katz live-streamed an energetic 2 hour Tu’ bishvat performance last month. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has kept giving their excellence with online works in contemporary dance. Ballet expert Kim Sagami with gifted piano accompanist Colin DeJong kept students moving with Zoom and Instagram classes for almost a year. DePaul School of Music notable professional alums will perform online this spring.
While much of our lives have been put on hold, creativity can’t be canceled.
The pandemic changed a normal ‘all in the same place’ to dancing alone together from different states or countries. “Modern Dance on zoom really allows me to ‘dance like no one is watching.’ I’ve learned to be creative with my space and express myself under any circumstances. This class has a very welcoming ambiance that allows you to connect with other students even through a screen.” From students to professionals, dancers and musicians create, in any and all spaces, even with Corona. No matter what, they find a way to do what they love. As a result, everyone benefits from creativity that can’t be canceled.