Arts production and dance departments join forces to produce weekly virtual performances
For BYU’s fall 2020 semester — a semester unlike any other due to COVID-19 restrictions — dancers and stage crews have come together to produce weekly virtual dance performances. Each week, a new BYU dance company has the chance to perform. At 5 p.m. MDT every Friday, a livestream-video broadcasts the performance to audiences near and far.
“I love that I can be in the theatre again, even if it does look a little bit different now than it did before COVID-19,” said theatre arts studies student Kirsten Busse. “It still is a performance; we’re making art and we’re sharing it with people all around the world.”
Busse works as a stagehand backstage at the BYU Dance LIVE streamed performances. Busse helps ensure that everything — from the curtains to the microphones — operates smoothly for the dancers.
“It’s cool that this livestream can reach family members that wouldn’t normally be able to make it,” said stage manager Crysta Powell. “We’ve had international students whose families have been able to get online and watch them.”
Powell graduated from BYU in theatre art studies in 2015. Once she graduated, Powell worked in New York for a couple of years before returning to BYU to work in the dance department. She’s now been working at BYU for more than two years.
“We’ve done a lot of performances, and we’ve all worked in theatre for many years,” said Powell. “But livestreaming is new for all of us. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It’s fun to have a new challenge and opportunity.”
The livestreamed performances come with a plethora of safety precautions. All dancers, choreographers, production managers and crews must fill out the Healthy Together app questionnaire, wear a mask and have their temperature checked before rehearsals and performances.
Benjamin Sanders, the production manager for BYU dance, is the one who originally pitched the idea to start doing livestreamed performances for the different dance ensembles each week.
Sanders earned his MFA at BYU in 1996 in theatre design technology. He has worked at BYU for 21 years.
“Most of these groups usually do a lot of touring, and we travel around the world with them. So, we thought the livestream would be a way for our hosts out there to see what we’re doing without having live performances,” said Sanders. “BYU Dance Professor Adam Dyer suggested we do it like a television show with a host and interview some of the dancers during the show to see what it’s like to dance during COVID-19. Overall, a lot of teamwork and collaboration went into making BYU Dance LIVE. The best stuff comes out of teamwork.”
Each week, the students and staff work together in production meetings to plan out the show, but by the time rehearsals come they have to be able to adapt based on what they see behind the cameras. With a tight schedule and only a few run-throughs before the live show, Sanders is grateful his students have jumped right in and worked through the challenges.
“One of my concerns with sending these performances through a camera was that we would lose some of the live-theatre energy,” said Sanders. “But the good thing is that we’re finding a new way to share the arts. Last week we had 700 different streams going out to 14 different countries. These students have performed in different countries before, but never all at the same time.”
BYU student Jacob Payne is the video director and video technical director for BYU Dance LIVE. Payne is a junior studying technology and engineering studies with an emphasis in multimedia education. Although Payne is not a theatre major — a similarity among several behind the scenes crew members — he enjoys the work he has done with the dance and theatre departments.
“COVID-19 has forced us to learn to do things remotely or from a distance,” said Payne. “There may not be a large audience at these dance performances, and most people are watching from home, but we are still sharing the beauty in the dance and the message that comes with it.”
To view the livestream performances, visit dance.byu.edu.
September 4: Ballroom Dance Company
September 11: International Folk Dance Ensemble
September 18: Contemporary Dance Theatre
September 25: Living Legends
October 2: Theatre Ballet
October 9: Young Ambassadors
October 16: Ballroom Dance Company
October 23: International Folk Dance Ensemble
October 30: Contemporary Dance Theatre
November 6: Living Legends
November 13: Theatre Ballet
November 20: Young Ambassadors