Orchesis' 50th Anniversary Concert

During the spring quarter of 2020, Cal Poly’s dance department conducted its first-ever online Spring Concert, Vitalis, where choreographers came up with creative ways to mashup solo videos into one cohesive piece. 

The dance program has been working virtually since the start of fall quarter, offering seven classes, some synchronous and some asynchronous, although some of the program’s classes have lower enrollment than usual

Professor and Dance Program Director Diana Stanton decided to offer her fall classes synchronously to allow for as much connection as possible, but faces challenges with timing.

“One of the aspects of technique classes — the movement and activity classes — is rhythm,” Stanton said. “And there’s a delay on Zoom.”

This means that different students are working through the choreography at different times, based on their WiFi connection and when they are hearing the music, according to Stanton. 

Some other challenges Stanton faces are not being able to physically correct, align or give feedback to her students. The department decided to cancel some of the classes that would normally be offered during fall quarter, like Beginning Ballet (DANC 131), to avoid injuries brought on by the inability of professors to make these physical corrections. 

Associate Professor of dance and director of Orchesis, Cal Poly’s dance company, Christy Chand has found her asynchronous virtual classes to be incredibly time-consuming and challenging without face-to-face connection.

“Trying to teach about anatomy, about rhythm, about all sorts of different things that we do in a dance classroom and trying to get that across in a video with literally no feedback … It’s weird, it’s really weird,” Chand said.

To adapt to these challenges, Stanton and some of the other professors have changed the structure of their classes.

“I think it’s very fatiguing to stay focused in this little screen for so long, so I may be doing less material and shorter little dances, shorter little nuggets of information,” Stanton said. 

Stanton has started to incorporate writing into her class time. 

Materials engineering senior Giannina Yu said that there are two opinions among students dancing at home.

“One, you’re more comfortable dancing at home because then you’re not in front of strangers and people you might not know as well,” Yu said. “There’s also the other side of it where you’re not in that safe space where everyone around you is struggling to do the same thing.”

Psychology senior Erin Peterson feels that although a virtual format for her last year with the program is not ideal, Fall classes are going well.

“I think we’ve been able to adapt well to the current circumstances and shift the program in a way that still keeps the integrity, and the camaraderie, and the goals of the program as it was in person,” Peterson said.

Several other students, like communication studies senior Annie Margolis, said that classes are going better than expected.

“I think it’s really nice to still have the opportunity to dance and be able to be a part of the dance program, even though we can’t all be together,” Margolis said. 

Orchesis, recently announced that its auditions for the 2020-2021 academic year will be held virtually and is only available for dancers who have previously been a part of the company or the campus’ dance program. 

In previous years, auditions for Orchesis have been at the start of fall quarter and open to all dancers. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Chand decided it was best to work with dancers she is familiar with.

“I need to have trust, to be honest, with the people and know that they’ll be there and they’ll show up for their choreographers and they’ll do the work that’s necessary,” Chand said. 

In previous years, the company has had approximately 25 to 30 dancers, but Chand is hoping for about 15 this year.

Orchesis’ upcoming concert, Floor Plan, will entail soloists moving through a room in their individual homes, connecting with the furniture and walls, and will be edited to look like a tour of a single home. 

The production will be choreographed by students, faculty and guest staff, and rehearsals will be held online. 

Business administration sophomore McKenna Tracy participated in the spring concert last quarter and is auditioning for Orchesis this winter. 

“I think now that we’ve done the spring show before, it’s gonna be a lot easier given that it’s not a completely new scenario, whereas in the spring, it was totally all new and none of us had really done something like that before,” Tracy said.

Margolis said that because the season usually happens during fall and winter quarter, her job as an Orchesis intern is going to be different this year.

“We haven’t really done much yet, because the company hasn’t started, but I think it will just be very limited in what our role is and what our obligations are as interns,” Margolis said.

Margolis said her job will likely be centered around community building, which she thinks will be challenging online.

Chand is expecting challenges and preparing for the possibility that things may need to change quickly.

“It’s just going to be a completely different experience and I look forward to leading through optimism and through the opportunity to encourage people to just embrace trying something new,” Chand said.

Dancers who want to audition should fill out the Google Form linked on the Orchesis Instagram page and will be sent a video combination that they must learn, film and send back to Chand and her team. 

The program is encouraging students who do not qualify for this year’s company and are of intermediate level or higher to enroll in Advanced Contemporary Repertory DANC 332 where they will still create a piece for Floor Plan. The Spring Dance Concert is also open for dancers at any level.

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