Published April 28, 2020
During this period of uncertainty, dance majors in faculty professor Tom Ralabate’s DAC 442 / Choreography 2 course are making different kinds of choices. As class work continues in the digital realm students are encouraged to further trust their creative instincts, to return to the core, while retuning to their bodies. “They’re finding interesting new ways of moving,” said Ralabate. “They were propelled to make these choices under the circumstances.”
Ralabate’s students are exploring dance creation within the camera lens, in the confinement of self-isolation, both at home and in outdoor settings adhering to social distancing. This new playground of creativity presents itself on the Zoom platform during class. There students continue to present, share, discuss and analyze the art of dance making with Ralabate.
For her engaging commercial-inspired video project senior dancer Katie Tomney used the total environment around her family’s home in Stafford, Virginia, in a new construction area. “All the locations were inside the house or just in the neighborhood,” said Tomney. “So we had an empty back lot to work with. The only time that we really came in contact with anybody else was when people would pass by in their cars and slow down to see what we were doing.”
Students were tasked with creating a music-inspired commercial-style dance video. “When we were given the assignment (by Professor Ralabate) I realized I didn’t have a space large enough in my house to do the piece of choreography I wanted to present,” Tomney explained. “So I had the thought to do smaller bits of choreography , 10 to 30 seconds at a time, then edit them together. My younger brother was behind the camera. It gave (me) a chance to collaborate and it was something fun for him to do. He’s 19 and goes to George Mason, and doesn’t do filming regularly. I came up with the choreography (first) and then we tried to come up with locations to match.”
After graduation this spring, and once some degree of normalcy returns, Tomney would like to move to Orlando and start auditioning for Disney and the cruise line scene. She would eventually like to go to New York City and get into Broadway.
Regarding the Theatre and Dance Department’s mid-semester transition to distance learning, Tomney said, “I’ve been really impressed and inspired with how the whole thing has gone down. As a dance major, you start thinking, ‘How is this going to work?’ But people have figured it out and made it work from the circumstances. Having the Zoom classes makes up for what we thought was going to be lost time for the rest of the semester. I’ve been impressed and inspired by the adjustments even though it doesn’t replicate the classroom experience to a ‘T.’”
“It was a struggle at first to find the motivation but now it’s a blessing to be able to have the time to think through my ideas. More so than usual,” Tomney said. Professor Ralabate concurs. “Students are employing both traditional and non-traditional choreographic forms, tools, and processes to the art of dance making, and embracing creative problem solving and risk taking with opened arms,” he said. “For UB Dance, if COVID 19 is teaching us anything it is that the possibilities are countless in serendipitous ways.”
Like Tomney, junior dance major Homeria Lubin’s video , titled “Lightning and Thunder,” set to the music of Jhené Aiko, makes use of her natural surroundings in West Town, NY. “My style is usually hard hitting but I wanted to represent the lightness of Jhené’s voice, so I tried to find movements that reflected that quality. The music has this kind of jazziness to it that I tried to capture,” Lubin explained. “I’m more of a hip hop, funky jazz dancer usually. I mostly did ballet and jazz when I was younger, starting when I was three.”
“When you create dance it’s everything you know. I did a lot of the choreography (in advance of shooting). I knew parts of the song I wanted to choreograph and then left sections for improvisation.”
Regarding UB’s transition to distance learning Lubin said, “All of my classes, they’ve adjusted pretty well. How other people are being affected by Covid-19 is affecting my school work more than anything. But all of my (THD) teachers have been trying to help us and that’s very special that the faculty want to do what’s best for us. I don’t feel super pressured. Just to be able to create in such turmoil is nice.”
Lubin is currently a double major in Psychology. “I still want to be able to dance and audition, and this summer I was going to go to CA and see if that’s something I’m interested in,” she said, though of course that plan is now on hold. After graduation in 2021 Lubin hopes to get her master’s in Psychology online while also pursuing commercial dance.
“A lot of people in (Professor Ralabate’s) class were saying it was their first time editing a video. This was personally the first time for me trying to make something commercial. We’re stuck in lockdown so we had to learn this skill and I thought that was cool. And it will be helpful in the future.”
Ralabate is proud of his students. “They have just been running with this class. They’ve discovered the lens. Instead of working with a partner they’re working with the camera.”
Senior Whitney Zimmerman’s black and white video incorporates more post-production aspects than some others, like slow-motion, overlapping images, and an overall dreamlike quality in her partial transparency. A Tonawanda, NY native, the piece was filmed at Zimmerman’s house in Buffalo, against the background of an ivy-covered building and rustic wooden fence, as a light breeze sways her natural stage set.
“The video concept was of still finding things to do with yourself even in quarantine. Keeping yourself motivated and being there for yourself. The slow motion is kind of to show that this (Covid-19 and its enormous disruptive effects) isn’t moving fast. Though I tried not to make it too obvious.”
Zimmerman recorded multiple two-minute the clips on her iPhone, then transferred them into iMovie to cut, paste, and overlap, incorporating green screen options. Like Lubin, it was her first time editing a dance film. “I would probably have never edited a video if it wasn’t for doing it at home.”
“We Zoomed during class time and shared our projects. Mr. Tom called on a few people to talk about what they thought worked in the videos. It was a bit of normalcy (even though it took place online).”
Zimmerman has taught at a local dance studio since high school and plans to continue after graduation this semester. “We have a mentorship program so I’ll be mentoring dancers and doing more choreography for them. Teaching is a good way to also learn. It’s the best way to get it into your body.”
Regarding the challenges of distance teaching with her own students Zimmerman says, “I’ve been doing Zoom classes too, so you can’t have any lifts or partnering. I keep them separate but try to still do the same type of choreography without contact. I just think that the whole (Theatre and Dance) department is doing a really good job of helping us adjust (to distance learning).”
UB Theatre and Dance is proud to boast that, in DAC 442 / Choreography 2, both life and movement are precious and celebrated.