By Juli Goetz Morser
For Vashon Center for the Arts
Resilience may be one of several well-worn words during the pandemic, but the reason is clear. It names the engine behind the multitude of brave and imaginative responses we’ve all witnessed over the past year.
So, it comes as no surprise that resilience and its cohort, perseverance, are the themes for this year’s adaptation to film of Vashon Center for Dance’s annual and popular production of “Original Works.” The show will be live-streamed from Vashon Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10, at vashoncenterforthearts.org.
Turning obstacles into opportunities — from not rehearsing in person or performing on stage to learning how to choreograph and perform for film — VCD dancers met the challenges with unabashed creativity and a powerful, emotive response to their COVID-era experiences.
“Resilience is the main theme coming out of a year of restriction in all ways, where students danced in their bedroom and adapted to the mirrored world of Zoom,” said Crissy Baker, VCD Program Manager and producer of “Original Works” (OW). “There is an emotional story behind a lot of the pieces, which the choreographers speak to in their bios, but you’ll also see it expressed.”
The film showcases 12 dances: six choreographed by students and six by local choreographers, who set their work on VCD dancers. The styles range from ballet to modern, contemporary, hip hop, jazz and contemporary African dance plus a piece by the late choreographer, Kay Englert.
“Cry” was set on the students by professional dancers Heidi Byrnes and Gretchen DeGroot, fulfilling Englert’s request to find a performance group to carry on her legacy.
“Byrnes and DeGroot approached us saying, ‘We love what you have going on at VCA. We love the skill and want to set the piece on your dancers,’” Baker said. “It has been a special and unique experience for our dancers. It also connects us with the dance community beyond Vashon. We are on their map.”
Despite the fragmentation of Zoom, the collaborative nature of VCD has students and instructors working hard to help each other. Past VCD alumnus Julianna Wright, soon to graduate from the University of Utah, choreographed a contemporary ballet piece and set it on students through Zoom. VCD alumnus, instructor and professional dancer Madeline Morser worked with students in her choreography class, helping them to refine phrasing and position their work for optimal camera angles.
“I am floored not only by the level of maturity I see in their work,” Morser said, “but also by the questions they bring up about their choreography. More than anything it shows a solid understanding of choreographic elements.”
Mia Kuzma, who will attend Point Park University in the fall, has been a team leader helping her peers, as well as a choreographer developing her own work.
“I have been involved in OW for many years,” she said, “but this is my first as a choreographer. It has been a wildly rewarding experience. I never imagined I would get the opportunity to work with film in this way. I am incredibly lucky to be a part of this year’s production.”
VCD’s youngest choreographer, Sadie Choo, age 15, choreographed a piece primarily to spoken word poetry.
“She is literally blowing our minds,” Baker said. “It is high-level work, and she is only a freshman. You are captivated by the choreography and the story.”
Island multimedia artist Allison Crain Trundle will present a piece with original costumes and choreography.
She applauded the show’s mission to allow students to create their own works in a professional setting.
“I’ve always felt that OW is one of the best annual events on Vashon,” Crain Trundle said. “It never disappoints, and this year it is like no other with relevant themes, edgy styles, graceful moments and a look into local artists’ spirits and souls. Crissy Baker runs the show with elegance and perseverance. Her spirit of community inclusivity and why public art matters is a force.”
Videographer Jeff Dunnicliff and VCA’s technical director, Michael Hayes, are producing a multi-camera recording of each piece, working with the dancers and choreographers to creatively capture their vision on film.
“Jeff and Michael are both artists and professionals in their fields,” Baker said. “They want to make sure each piece looks its best and is done right by the student.”
Baker hopes the work created for OW will extend beyond the show, with dancers adding pieces to their portfolios, demonstrating their artistry and ability to lead a team.
“Most schools don’t give students the opportunity to choreograph and perform in a professional setting,” she said. “This is a big one, and it feels good coming out of the pandemic. Though we can’t be on stage with an audience, we’ve found another way to do this, to give it time and investment to do it right. I’m really proud of the dancers. They have been working hard.”
The show will be streamed on the VCA website at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10. There is a $10 suggested donation. Visit VashonCenterForTheArts.org for more information.