“I woke up—I took my costume, I took a bath. That day we were ready. That day we were having a performance,” recalls dancer and choreographer Rigoberto Saura. It was Friday the 13th of March 2020, and Hedwig Dances was preparing to take the stage at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts for their program Lightplay, consisting of Raum, a premiere by artistic director Jan Bartoszek inspired by the work of László Moholy-Nagy, as well as a restaging of Saura’s 2019 The Flowering Mechanisms.
“We had done our whole tech week and dress rehearsal. We were all set to go,” recalls Bartoszek of the early days of the pandemic in Chicago. “We were going back and forth on whether we should open. It was getting intense, and the information was scary.” Hours before curtain, they decided to cancel their show. An e-mail, time-stamped at 3:14 PM, read, “We regret to inform you that after learning of the (pending) Federal State of Emergency declaration (to be made) (made by) [sic] President Trump our combined leadership made the difficult decision to cancel this weekend’s performances of Lightplay at the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. We hope to reschedule performances in the future, at a time when this current uncertainty as to the spread of COVID 19 has been put to rest by the CDC and other responsible oversight agencies.”
Suddenly in quarantine, the company was stunned. “I was feeling in chaos,” recalls Saura. “This is real. Maybe tomorrow, I will see all the people running in the streets—cars, bicycles—trying to run away. All that you were building is falling apart.” This feeling of disorientation and urgency would become the seed for Saura’s new work KAOS, a piece that combines video and livestream performance premiering this week.
The company began exploring ideas over Zoom in June. On creating for the screen, Saura says, “All your concepts of dance composition change a little bit. You need to make your own new tools and your own new rules to work with this. You need to pay more attention to [the] visual [aspect], the perspective of the camera, how to transform your body so it doesn’t look like a body.”
“When you’re dancing in the theater, the audience can feel the dancers—can almost touch them. You can feel the breathing, feel that sometimes they’re tired and try to keep going. The sounds and energies, you can feel.” In contrast, “on the screen, everything feels a little cold. You need to try to break that ice. People in their homes watching you dance need to feel you’re close to them. I want to create the feeling that you’re inside the piece, not alone. Your way of connecting with others changes because it’s through a screen.”
While the sense of touch and the sharing of space have become more challenging to access, Bartoszek points out that working remotely has also created opportunities and altered the art form for both performers and audiences. “You can reach out on this platform and invite people from anywhere who have a screen and a connection to see what you’re doing. So you don’t need a space as much as you did. We’re working in 2D and working from home. We were all coming together at a specific time [for live performance]. How we use time is changing. I think it’s going to change our perception of space and time going forward.”
After months of working remotely, Saura says with confidence, “I believe my understanding of dance is growing. After this pandemic when we return to the theater, we will have more tools and more possibilities to create. I’ve been learning how to sit, write, read, have more time to connect with [myself].”
Furthermore, the constraints have been uniquely fruitful. “If we have this restriction and its rules because we’re trying to save our health, why don’t we use what we have?” he says. “If you’re in your home and have the opportunity to make dance through the screen, take your time to make your art through the screen. Fight to find the better way to express your art. People are so hungry to go to the studio and dance together. This is my personal opinion: I don’t get it. There’s so much interesting stuff you can find in your own place. I am enjoying this moment. I want to go to the studio again and take class and dance together, but if I have this moment, I have the patience to explore the most I can. The deeper you go into the moment and learn to take advantage of it—I think you’ll be much better in the future. I respect all the options, but I enjoy this process. I don’t want to compromise the health of the dancers or those around me to make my art. Right now, we are exploring and discovering a lot. The moment we feel like we got this, we can make a lot of beautiful stuff. All beginnings are hard.”
“It’s OK to experiment right now,” says Bartoszek. “People are searching, and we know we’re searching. We all have to experiment. There’s a learning curve, and we have limitations. It’s exciting and frustrating. The challenge is: create.” v