by Edwina Thertulien for The Dance Journal
“Seven! Step eight and one!” That was the voice of Eleone Dance Theatre’s Rehearsal Director Dara Meredith as we rehearsed “Bridges” during our very first rehearsal on Zoom. As I am locked in my room, sweating profusely, I think to myself, “How are we going to do this?” “How am I going to do this?”
On December 20th, Eleone will stream their first digital presentation of Carols in Color, the company’s holiday show that narrates the birth of Jesus. Originally conceived and choreographed by founder E. Leon Evans, Carols in Color also includes choreography from Shawn-Lamere Williams (Artistic Director) and Charon Mapp (Rehearsal Director of Eleone Connection). Along with other dance companies, Eleone is now pushed to explore new methods to bring their art to the masses. To have the opportunity to witness the creativity of this project’s co-Creative Directors Dara Meredith and Anthony Rhodes, the musical leadership of Omar-Frederick, along with the photography skills of Kai Rapelyea that allowed for the successful reimagination of Carols in Color was inspiring and is a testament to the resilient nature of dance artistry.
Personally, my favorite piece to watch and perform is the fast-paced celebratory piece entitled “Hallelujah.” At the start, the dancers are huddled in a circle. A twinkling in the music indicates something miraculous has occurred and is about to manifest into cheerful praise. As the twinkling increases, the dancers roll their hands together with increasing speed as if they are capturing this divine energy and gathering it within their being. Everything builds, the dancers make eye contact with one and another as if to say, “here we go!” Baaoowww! The saxophone signals the beat drop, and the starburst of choreography begins. Feeding off of each other’s energy during this particular moment is important because, quite frankly, it is the energy that gets you past the halfway point. Performing in the theatre, it is easy to rely on the audience’s cheers or those spectating backstage. Therefore, you can imagine my slight dismay when we are reduced to rehearsing such an exuberant piece through the compact, digital space of Zoom. Without our Marley floors and theatre lighting, I ask again, how will we do this?
Shooting that same starburst formation in jazz shoes on slippery grass during chilly November was an experience. Elements of downtown Philadelphia that are normal on any other day made shooting all the more difficult. Not to mention the necessity of maintaining social distancing, it is needless to say, this was a challenge. As the time came to record outside, I noticed my surroundings. I realized we started to attract a crowd of spectators that later functioned as our audience. I could hear Ms. Charon Mapp and Ms. Trish Morris providing us with vocal encouragement. I laughed at the humorous commentary of fellow company members. I felt the pressure of the narrow time constraints. Everything I noticed began to feel oddly similar to a show day in the theatre. It started to feel familiar. It started to feel like home. Even with the unfamiliarity of recording a Christmas show during a pandemic, the same feelings of anticipation, excitement (and sometimes slight dread, I am not going to lie!) that comes along with performing “Hallelujah” was there. It was still there.
At the beginning of this process, I wondered, “how?” I realized that as with anything else in the dance world, the answer is to just do. During this unprecedented time, I urge all other dance artists to do the same. Notice all of the unfamiliarity elements that may trouble you and use them as leverage to access points of familiarity. In doing this, you will achieve a sense of home that will ground you and provide solace during these unsettling times.
Eleone Dance Theatre
Carols in Color 2020: The Philadelphia Edition!
December 20, 2020 at 6:00pm
Virtual Event | $15
Tickets and information: https://bit.ly/3mypDq6