REVIEW: Sac State dancers ‘Thrive’ in online performance

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Sacramento/Black Art of Dance’s dance production, “Thrive,” features several Sac State students and is available online and on-demand from Thursday, March 17 to Saturday, March 20 with a special director’s commentary version Sunday at 2 p.m. Image courtesy of Kevin Wilhite

Gerardo Zavala, Video Editor

From the moment it starts, it’s evident that this isn’t a regular dance show.

The movements of the camera and the cuts to different locations give the audience a front-row seat to the adaptations the choreographers and performers had to make to create a dance show in an online environment. 

“It’s more like a dance film than a dance performance,” director Bernard Brown said. 

Sacramento/Black Art of Dance, a part of Sac State’s Theatre Department, is a dance collective that carries on the tradition of Black concert dance in America, according to its LinkedIn page. The theme for this year’s on-demand production is “Thrive.”

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“I felt it important to look at the problems and what is birthing itself from this darkness,” Brown said regarding the events of the past year. “[The theme] thrive is about finding ways to thrive within a system that is out to get you systemically and institutionally.”

The up-close shots of dancers on stage eased the audience into the experience by showing a typical scene you’d expect for a dance show; dancers on stage moving their bodies rhythmically to incredible music to evoke emotions. 

The cuts are subtle at first, going to a single dancer alone on stage to four dancers moving simultaneously, relying on weeks of practice to time their movements to the music.

“Timing and rhythm is really important in the type of dance that we do in this concert,” Brown said. “We had to really drill timing with the music, not timing as [we’re] hearing it.” 

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Most rehearsals had to be done through Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions, and the delay that comes with online meetings meant choreographers could not have all dancers moving at the same time on screen. 

This issue was nearly unavoidable given that Brown is staying in Los Angeles and that neither of the guest choreographers, Jade Charon and Maurice Watson, are from California. 

RELATED: Step up: How COVID-19 is affecting Sac State dance majors

The experience for the dancers is addressed directly in Sac State lecturer Nicole Manker’s segment of the production, Power,” which ran for several minutes, featuring seven songs and three different locations; a Zoom room featuring the on-screen dancers’ dance spaces, an outdoors scene near the Guy West bridge on campus, and a dance stage. The performance captures the struggles that were faced to create the production. 

“There were some parts where we were moving with too much individuality because we had adjusted them to make them fit to our spaces,” said dancer Melena Mahannah. “We had to work together to get it all fairly in-sync while remaining six feet apart.” 

Sac State student and dancer Jayda Preyer had an ankle injury in January and although it’s recovered, she said she’s had to be very careful during rehearsals because the floor in her room is much more difficult to dance on than a regular dance stage. 

“It has taught me not to limit myself as a person and as a growing artist,” Preyer said in regard to performing in an unnatural dance production. 

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Dance is a very technical art and requires consistency in terms of the floor, the space and the timing of the movements. The dancers were able to overcome each obstacle and, similar to the theme of the show, thrived doing so. 

“Once we got in the space together, there was a joy being able to move together again,” Brown said. “The communal aspect of dance is something we will never take for granted again.” 

The dance production started Wednesday and tickets are available for purchase online until Saturday, March 20. Ticket sales cutoff at 9 p.m., so viewers need to purchase them prior to then to be able to watch the show. 

There will be a special director’s commentary version of the show Sunday at 2 p.m.