Public parks, dorm rooms, parking garages and even a cemetery all provide backdrops in Penn Dance Company’s newest spring show, “Premiere.” In an abnormal year of dancing in masks six feet apart and toting video gear to the top of a parking deck, “I think we’ve all just had to get creative,” Olivia Wang C’22, the president of Penn Dance Company, says of Penn student performance groups’ spring shows.
But there’s a small silver lining to Covid-19 restrictions forcing nearly all student shows to go virtual this year: for the first time, alumni who are nowhere near campus can tune in and watch the full performances, which are cropping up throughout this month and next as Facebook livestreams, Zooms and YouTube posts.
Wang says it became clear to her group last semester that their spring show would have to be virtual, just as their fall show had been. The journey to “Premiere,” which debuted on the group’s YouTube channel last weekend, “was such a long process,” she says, starting with choreography and then Zoomed rehearsals, which brought their own challenges. “A lot of people are in dorms,” she notes, “and that’s not a lot of space.”
New options sprouted up as the spring semester began, but they also involved strict regulations to prevent any potential spread of Covid-19. Penn’s Platt House offered groups scheduled time slots to use the top two levels of an outdoor parking garage at 38th and Walnut for virtual performances. They also supplied professional video editors to help stitch students’ footage together into a polished virtual performance.
For Penn Dance, the result was this half-hour virtual show, which includes five brand-new choreographed pieces:
Penn Dance wasn’t the only student group to take their spring show virtual this year—and to take Platt House up on their offer for professional editing and a parking garage backdrop.
The Pan-Asian Dance Troupe presented their spring show, “Dreamscape,” on April 9 via their YouTube channel:
Bloomers managed to continue their spring performance tradition with a virtual “Bloomers! At the Disco” show earlier this month:
The West Philly Swingers will livestream their virtual spring show, “International Swing Station,” via Facebook on Saturday, April 24.
The Shabbatones have planned a live virtual concert via Zoom, slated for May 1 at 9:30 p.m. They’re also one of multiple student groups—including the Glee Club, Penn Singers, the Penn Lions and Korean drumming group PennDure—who have found in-person performance outlets this spring through mini outdoor shows at the Annenberg Plaza.
While Wang says the experience of planning a virtual show introduced her group to tech possibilities they may not have explored otherwise—including the ability to hold virtual rehearsals—“I really think that people are just excited to go back to in-person,” she says. “It’s just such a unique experience to be dancing in the same room as someone—to have elements of touch and interaction with people in real time. It’s just really different.”
But there is one change that Wang hopes will stick post-pandemic: “In the past, we haven’t been super experienced with filming [our shows], so some of the videos we upload to our YouTube have been kind of blurry,” she says. “I’m really hoping that the quality of videos we take of our in-person shows increases going forward.”
—Molly Petrilla C’06