- Tori Duhaime
If 2020 was a trying transitional time for the performing arts, 2021 is the time of understanding what everyone learned when forced by necessity to innovate. Last fall, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company artistic director Daniel Charon observed that while creating a new work at a time when it wasn't clear whether it would be for a live audience or a virtual presentation, he had to be thinking about it in both ways simultaneously. Now, with the understanding that virtual presentation was definitely the platform for Ririe-Woodbury's Home Run production, Charon says he was able to embrace it fully.
"I think the beauty of this show—and not just my work, but all the work in the program—is that they're all dance films. Last time, we were essentially in the theater, and did a good job of filming the work so it didn't just look like archival work. This time, we set all the artists free: Let's make dance for the camera. Let's make dance films."
The result is something Charon refers to as "almost like a film festival in some ways," with choreographers—including Charon himself, guest artist Molly Heller and RWDC company members—creating works particularly for a filmed presentation. Also included on the program are an excerpt from the classic 1970 piece Wash with choreography by company co-founder Joan Woodbury, and an installation-style piece by dancers Megan McCarthy and Dominica Greene that will be performed live between each filmed work.
For Charon, the inspiration for how he would create his own piece, Winter's Light, began with the process for filming his fall 2020 piece Remote Convergence. While collaborating with Wonderstone Films on the filming, Charon would create storyboards to articulate his vision. "Scott [Hathaway of Wonderstone Films] said, 'You're really good at this,'" Charon says. "'You communicate really well in this format. You should really do something like this for yourself.'"
So for Winter's Light, instead of using an outside company to do the filming as he did in the fall, Charon wanted to be his own cinematographer, taking advantage of his own background in integrated media. "I invested in a gimbel cam, and created a work that I could film myself," he says. "I choreographed myself into the work. The beauty of being a former professional dancer myself was, I felt I could weave my way through with a lot of freedom and flexibility, investigating my own choreography through the point of view of my camera."
Charon says that as he was beginning the process of conceiving Winter's Light, one of the first things he planned was shooting in one single extended take. The result is a 16-minute single-shot work that he describes as inspired by cinematic examples like Birdman and 1917, as well as the "walk-and-talk" segments in episodes of The West Wing.
There was an additional freedom created by conceiving Winter's Light as a dance film rather than as a recording of a live performance, Charon notes—the ability to think without the confines of a proscenium. As his "set," Charon made use of the gallery space at Ogden's new The Monarch facility, and was able to shoot thinking of a room rather than a stage. "We completely emptied it out, and could have a 360-degree perspective," he says. "So 'front' didn't matter. It was nice to go into a space where front didn't matter."
The use of this particular space and its architecture became part of the overarching theme of the Home Run program, which involves different ideas of "home" as both physical space and concept, including pieces where solo dancers performed in their own homes. Charon acknowledges that during a time when people have been more confined to their homes, that idea might have changed significantly. "I think the idea of 'home' for me, in my life, has always connoted a place of comfort, welcoming, safety," he says. "It's kind of this heavy place now, this inescapable place now, because the world is dangerous."
Now that the world has changed, it's becoming clearer that some of the ways life has changed could be permanent. While Charon says there are tentative plans to explore an outdoor performance in the spring, it's possible that Ririe-Woodbury dancers might not be back in front of live audiences again, at least in a theater space, until the fall, or even a full year from now. But even when that eventually happens, he envisions that new ways of creating, like filmed works and virtual performances, will remain part of what dance companies do.
"We're realizing the value of investing in filming the work we do, because we can reach more audiences that way," Charon says. "In terms of access, we can expose many more people to the work. ... There's always this concern that, if you film it, nobody's going to come into the theater. But on Broadway, there was that concern when the movie version of Chicago came out, that nobody would come see the show. And instead, it just sparked greater interest."