Tatyana Hunter-Henley sitting in-front of computer screens that are on a zoom call
Tatyana Hunter-Henley Dance Performance

Brenau Dance thinks big to overcome COVID challenges

Sep 14, 2021
Brenau Staff

by Madia Cooper-Ashirifi

Despite the many challenges of the past year, Brenau University’s Department of Dance has continued to think big. As live performances across the country dwindled, the department forged ahead, progressively rethinking performances and collaborations with the Gainesville community to support and showcase Brenau’s dance majors.

Woman in a red dress dancing

The dance faculty concluded that the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity for them to transition boldly into adapting how dance majors create and how the audience receives dance. Since in-person performances were placed on hold, the department began to rethink how our incredible spaces at Brenau could shape the kind of work that the faculty and students produce. Thus, the department restructured the composition curriculum to focus on dance films and shorts as a way to showcase art through computer monitors and TV screens. 

Even before COVID, the dance industry had already been active in creating dance films, but Brenau Dance had little output in the film arena. The pandemic created an even greater sense of urgency that catapulted the department to adapt the current curriculum to foster artistic alternatives for students in creating dance films. Faculty pulled together resources to assist students in understanding basic film practices. Beginning with a series of lectures — including site-specific film examples and access to a videographer — the faculty hoped to find dancers who were ready to expand their artistic expression in impactful, thoughtful and imaginative ways.

In fall 2020, student choreographers in a composition class pivoted their preparation from staging works for the theater to curating stories on film. Every year the department hosts their fall concert, Evening of Dance, which is usually held on Brenau’s historic campus in Pearce Auditorium. Student choreographers were encouraged to create works either for  themselves or for a fellow dancer. Some students filmed their works in various locations such as parking garages, animal shelters, soccer fields, building hallways and parks. Students used their own cameras and editing software to make their films come to fruition. The department provided the resources for dancers to work with a videographer and access editing platforms.

The virtual concert titled HOLE also allowed an opportunity for dancers to perform guest artist Nicholas Palmquist’s work that couldn’t be performed last semester due to the department’s cancelled spring concert. The department reimagined the work to be performed and filmed in the middle of Washington Street where it runs through Brenau’s campus. Palmquist’s work along with student pieces were streamed in a virtual concert that ran from Nov. 5-8 on Vimeo and YouTube. The concert was well-received and viewed by an audience from around the world. 

Three dancers on all fours and one dancer standing

In the spring, the department was given clearance to host an in-person concert to a limited, social-distanced audience in Pearce. Additionally, the concert was streamed live for those unable to attend. The concert, PANORAMA, was composed of senior thesis, guest artists and faculty choreographies. One of the works was a dance on film that was streamed and projected on screen in the theater. The concert was well-received and both concerts maximized our viewership and garnered more interest toward the program. 

The Department continued to provide guest artists throughout the year by hosting a guest artist lecture and MasterClass series via Zoom. The artists included Jennifer Archibald of Arch Dance Company, Hollywood choreographer Marguerite Derricks, creative director Du’Bois A’Keen, physical therapist and dancer Brigid Gillis, Atlanta Dance Connection director Allyne Gartrell and Black Label Movement director Carl Flink. 

This past year has set an unprecedented opportunity for the department to extend the world of dance to the greater community and to the world. The department is committed to sharing dance both in-person and online to engage audiences and provide a platform for sense-making through dance.