Dancers from the Limón Dance Company perform “Chaconne” by famed Mexican-American choreographer Jose Limón. OCC dancers will perform "Chaconne" at a May 22 performance. 

The Orange Coast College Dance Department will debut its first-ever virtual dance concert on May 22 at 7 p.m. on Zoom. The show, “Dances for Camera,'' will feature the work of students in the Repertoire course taught by Department Chair Rachel Berman. It will culminate in an ensemble piece by the Limón Dance Company, which was filmed live in the Robert B. Moore Theatre with special permission and social distancing criteria.           

The show will take the audience through seven original works by OCC Repertoire students that includes two faculty members, Modern Dance, Yoga for Dancers and Improvisation instructor Shana Menaker and Middle Eastern dance instructor, Angelika Nemeth. Two of the student works premiered earlier this year at the OCC Giles Brown Symposium.  

Berman reflected on this past year in “Zoomlandia” and noted that when the campus first shut down last March, the spring dance concert was canceled followed by the fall dance concert. This year, as the spring semester approached again, Berman decided that a third cancellation was not the charm and scheduled the Repertoire class, an advanced class geared towards performance.

“My choreography class in the fall turned into making dance films. So, we talked about editing and camera angles and all those things. It’s a different way to construct [the dance] because it’s not going to be seen on a proscenium stage,” Berman said. “And really, the choreography is more in the editing than steps in space because you can make it anywhere. You know – the magic of film! I can dance in my bedroom and then in the next shot I’m on the beach and in the next shot I’m underwater!” 

Her students were learning the ins and outs of filming and once they passed that learning curve, Berman decided to schedule an actual concert. 

“The pandemic’s done a number on a lot of programs, but especially, dance has suffered,” she said. “I mean, all of the performing arts, because that is one goal – people want to be on stage.”

Faculty member Shana Menaker shared what it was like to take an art form that is traditionally a performance art and adapt it to a whole different medium. 

“There were so many challenges. The first challenge was, obviously being remote, and attempting to find ways to rehearse on Zoom, that was new and completely different from our usual process,” she said. “Not only the technical, like, ‘oh, I’ve got to get my music right and I’ve got to get my light right so they can see me,’ – not only that stuff, but also dealing with the fact that you have so much less information than when you are in the room with everyone. You’re seeing somebody on a flat screen instead of seeing them three dimensionally, you can’t walk around to the back side of them.”

Menaker hopes to have three films in the show.

“Because there’s so much talent and it’s kind of natural, the temptation, as a choreographer, you want to use the talent,” Menaker said, who utilized natural outdoor settings for her film backdrops. 

The dancers’ creative skills were really put to the test. They had to learn storyboarding, camera angles, editing and all the layers of what it takes to make a dance film. On top of that, they were given a unique opportunity to rehearse and perform live together at OCC’s Robert B. Moore Theatre where the finale ensemble piece, entitled “Chaconne” by famed Mexican-American choreographer Jose Limón, founder of the Limón dance company in New York, was staged and filmed.

The piece, which was first performed in 1942, is set to music by composer J.S. Bach, and was inspired by Limón’s own real-life struggles with the prospect of heading off to World War II. 

Berman drew parallels to the struggles the choreographer faced at that time to some of the struggles that students and people in general have faced throughout the pandemic. 

“He made the solo for himself before he was drafted and went off to WWII.  So, he was really thinking about his mortality as he goes off to war,” she said. “It’s kind of apropos for this time.” 

Originally a solo piece performed by Limón himself, the Limón company has adapted it into a gender-neutral piece that can be performed by an ensemble. There will be three women and two men performing the piece for the concert.

Limón was a pioneer of modern dance. The dance company he founded in 1942 continues to thrive as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.. According to their website, Limón was one of the world’s most influential dancers and choreographers who spent his entire career fighting for the recognition and establishment of modern dance. His style was masculine, dynamic, dramatic and very much his own. In addition to founding and running his dance company, Limón was also a key faculty member in The Julliard School’s Dance Division beginning in 1953 and continued choreographing until his death in 1972.

OCC Repertoire student, Jackie Pierce, was attending the Alvin Ailey Dance Program at Fordham University in New York in 2020 when the pandemic hit and effectively shut down the dance world. She decided to return home to Orange County and figured she would enroll in some dance classes at OCC while awaiting the reopening. 

“I was concerned there wouldn’t really be any performance opportunities this year. But the department really adapted, and I’m really excited about how the show came along,” Pierce said.

The seven-minute piece really tested the dancer’s stamina. 

“It definitely took a lot of building up to when we were rehearsing. But by the end of our rehearsals, we were doing the whole thing,” Pierce said. “It was definitely difficult, but I felt like I had a good handle on it. And then when we moved into the theater, that was a big shock, because suddenly I had so much more space. And then we were also doing it with our masks on, which proved very difficult.” 

Having the opportunity to film her own choreography and work on a dance film with a world-renowned dance company is something that Pierce didn’t expect to walk away with after a semester or two at OCC.

Also on the roster for the night will be a dance film by faculty member Angelika Nemeth, featuring a style of dance called “Raqs Sharqi” also known as belly dance, with dancers adorned in jeweled masks. 

The evening will take the audience through the many different styles of dance, backdrops, scenarios, and emotions as the dancers share their personal narratives of surviving in this time of artistic isolation. Under Berman’s guidance, the dancers now have a whole new tool kit with which to utilize and showcase their artistic expression. 

“It’s a really great opportunity. Having a professional dance film is really helpful for making a portfolio or reel or website or anything like that.  It can be difficult to get that opportunity normally. Just to learn about how best to dance in that kind of new environment – for the camera, as opposed to for a live audience,” Pierce said.

The dancers have been busy editing their own dance videos for the show and have yet to see the final product of their ensemble performance.

The Spring Dance Concert will truly be world premiere and can be accessed for free by everyone on Zoom May 22 at 7 p.m. After the show there will be a live reception and scholarship ceremony hosted by Dance Department Chair Rachel Berman.

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