Each spring, the Dana Hall community looks with anticipation toward the annual dance concert. The show highlights students’ progress in many genres of dance, including jazz, musical theater, modern, post-modern, contemporary, hip hop, tap, and ballet. Knowing they couldn’t perform in person this year, the Dana Hall Dance team begin planning an entirely virtual show that utilized new technology and software. We caught up with Devon Fitchett, director of Dance and Performing Arts Department Head, via email to hear about the process from start to finish.
How did you develop the idea for this year's virtual concert?
We feel really fortunate that we were able to have a live, in-person dance concert last year just before the effects of the pandemic set in and strict quarantine began. I don't think any of us imagined at that point that a full year later, we'd have to create a virtual concert. However, as time passed, it became more and more evident that we would not be gathering together for a live performance this year. I knew I wanted the best possible outcome for our concert, so instead of holding out hope for a live performance, I committed early on to creating the best virtual experience possible for our students and our audience. While there will never be a replacement for live performance (none of us can wait to get back to it), I knew a virtual option would make it possible for the concert to reach far more viewers than our usual in-person experience.
What technology did you use to produce it?
We transformed the studio into a performance space by bringing in new lighting and adding additional stage curtains to the studio walls. Because we were filming in cohorts, the filming process took a total of almost three weeks. Mikaela [Bradley, dance instructor] and I shot the entire show on our iPhones. Interestingly, they yielded the best quality images. We used Premiere Pro to edit each piece. This software was new to both Mikaela and me, and we learned it by trial and error. It is pretty complex software, and there was definitely a learning curve! This was a long process as well; each piece takes about five hours of editing time. While the whole process of filming and editing was new and presented challenges, we really enjoyed this fresh way of employing our creative energy.
How did your students adapt to this different format?
I was really apprehensive about how students would handle this change. We are definitely an institution that values its traditions, and I didn't want any students—especially those who are fully remote as well as the seniors—to feel cheated out of the traditional dance concert experience. That drove my commitment to making this the most fun and fulfilling process and product possible. I am so proud of the enthusiasm and dedication with which every single dancer dove into this process. They seemed motivated by the challenge of performing for the camera. They were excited and optimistic, and they truly pushed the limits of their artistry and abilities. I named the show Affinity because dancing together, whether virtually or in person, has helped to nurture our connection throughout the pandemic. That connection and shared love of dance could not have been more evident throughout the process.
How will this year influence future dance concerts?
As I mentioned, nothing can replace live performance. We are all eager to get back to it. However, this way of producing a performance has definitely broadened my view in terms of how to reach as big an audience as possible and how to incorporate more multimedia elements into a live performance.