Arcadia High's Orchesis Dance Company Presents a Virtual Spring Showcase
By AUSD Digital Communications Intern Danielle Workman
Arcadia High School’s Orchesis Dance Company 2020-2021
(Photo Courtesy of Orchesis Director Breanne Genite)
The age-old quote, “The show must go on,” rings true for the members of Arcadia High School’s Orchesis Dance Company (Orchesis) as they present their Virtual Dance Showcase in lieu of their annual Spring Production, which is available for viewing now until May 9.
Instead of performing on a stage in front of a live audience, Orchesis has found a new way to provide content for its fans and community while it continues to ride out pandemic-placed restrictions on in-person performing. Swiftly adapting to this year’s virtual setting, the dancers have turned their choreography into short dance films that have been compiled into one showcase, though this process has not come without a unique set of challenges.
To put things into perspective, Orchesis Director Breanne Genite shared a bit on what typical preparations entail for a show pre-pandemic.
“Typically, we have 3 p.m. -10 p.m. rehearsals, where we are blocking, spacing, and running through the show, in the PAC [Arcadia Performing Arts Center] every day for two weeks straight,” explained Genite. “We go through five nights of performances as well.”
As for this year’s virtual performance environment? “It's extremely different because a lot of the work we had to do collaboratively had to happen prior to the actual production, including working in class, creating, and shooting on locations,” added Genite.
Video by Arcadia Unified Digital Communications Intern Nicole Nie
Jacqueline Diep, Arcadia High School junior and Orchesis’ historian, reflected on the rehearsal process from years past. “We [normally] have rehearsals with a director or choreographer in class or during after-school rehearsals,” said Diep.
“When you are in-person, it’s a lot easier to clean everything and make sure all the details are the same, creating a more uniform piece. When the choreographer is right there in front of you, they can point out small corrections that you may have not noticed when at home. It’s a lot more effective when you are in-person because you will really know what the choreographer wants from you. However, when you are cleaning the dance on your own, you can’t depend on someone else to constantly give out corrections.”
Echoing Diep, Jolie Fong, Arcadia High School junior and Orchesis’ vice president, stated, “A big change was that everyone had to rely on themselves and keep themselves accountable. You are dancing by yourself and making sure you are working hard by yourself without having other teachers actively pushing you.”
Fong credits Orchesis dancers’ personal accountability as playing a vital role for the program’s continued success this year. In addition, not only have members of Orchesis been learning new pieces online, but some of them have been choreographing as well.
“A majority of the pieces, about 80 to 90 percent of the content in our show, have been created and edited by students,” shared Genite.
However, the choreographic process was harder to transition to an online setting.
“You have to be very conscious of directions when learning or teaching a piece,” Fong explained. “If you look at a Zoom screen, the person teaching and yourself is inverted. You can’t copy it directly from the screen. For people teaching, you have to be very detailed and on top of reminding dancers which side is your left or right and where the movement needs to travel. If you aren’t careful in the beginning, it’s going to end up very messy. Adapting to the Zoom platform and being conscious of the mirrored versus normal videos was super important.”
Diep also sympathized, “When you are teaching online, you have to account for lags, mirrored screens, or people who can’t go full out because of their limited dance spaces. We don’t know if someone is doing something correctly or the way a choreographer wants it, which is really hard. Over time, as we kept teaching online and perfecting our process, it got a lot easier. The teaching process was a lot better and faster by the second semester.”
After refining choreography, dancers went to multiple locations to film.
“A benefit of distance learning is that when you are filming, if it doesn’t end up looking as good as you want it to on the first try, you can always redo it,” noted Alexa Litonjua, Arcadia High sophomore and Orchesis member.
“Whatever you produce to the audience you know will be your best work. It’s not a one-take only situation. You can perfect the small details and make it just how you or the choreographer likes it.”
Litonjua continued, “I think distance learning opened our creative bubble. Dancing for film allowed us to learn how to properly film and edit, as well as allowing us to go to various locations. We tried to make the best work possible considering these situations.”
On top of rehearsing, choreographing, and filming, Orchesis had the opportunity to hone their video editing skills.
Fong explained, “Editing is a big part of the preparation for this showcase. Sometimes the videos don’t turn out how you want them to so you need to manually fix the timing or spacing of the dance by editing. Editing is really important besides the rehearsal and dancing aspect.”
According to Genite, editing has been one of the bigger parts of the creative process this year, likening the creative piecing together of video performances to the formations in a dance piece on stage.
Important to note: Many of the Orchesis dancers have never edited video before.
“A majority of the people who edited the dances this year it was the first time they edited anything,” said Diep. “Premiere Pro [a video editing software] is a pretty difficult program to use if it’s your first time editing. When you are editing, you have to stay creative and find new ways to always incorporate different aspects of the software and utilize everything you have.”
Consequently, Navya Kannan, Arcadia High School sophomore and Orchesis member, found that distance learning provided the opportunity to use video editing effects to enhance the themes of the choreography.
“In places where it is kind of hard to put movement that matches with the music, we can incorporate transitions or cool and artistic shots that contribute to the mood of the piece. That’s a big plus to being online and having an online platform.”
“I think everybody can agree that distance learning is very different from in-person learning,” acknowledged Genite.
“There were definitely a lot of adjustments and new things we had to learn how to do. For the most part, it was a fun experience. I know things could have turned out a lot worse, and I feel we were very lucky. Everybody embraced doing this new type of performance platform and being open to trying things differently. Given the circumstances, everybody handled this really well!”
Ultimately, Director Genite and the dancers of Orchesis are thrilled to be able to put on a show.
Kannan explained, “I want to see how people react. A lot of my friends know that every Saturday, Navya is at rehearsal or filming something. They don’t know exactly what it is. I’m really excited for them and myself to actually see the finished product and all the hard work and hours compiled into one really cool show. Being able to still see and put on a show makes me very excited.”
“It’s been a long journey and creative process, so it’ll be nice to see the final products,” noted Litonjua. “I always love to hear feedback from the audience about what they thought. It lets you know that your hard work and all the long hours of editing and filming was worth it.”
Genite shared the same sentiment, “Even though it is virtual, when people watch this show, they will understand why we have put in so many hours and why we were rehearsing so much. What they have been able to do in a short amount of time and the quality work they’ve been able to produce far surpasses anything I would have expected them to be able to do. I am really proud of how much they have grown creatively as artists and choreographers because they had to step into a very different perspective. A lot of them only just started learning how to film and edit. To see their growth and what they’ve learned is quite amazing. I feel that people within the community and on campus need to see the work that they have done.”
The free Arcadia High Orchesis Spring Showcase premiered on Apr. 30 and is viewable until Sunday, May 9. Access the show by visiting ahsorchesis.com. For more information about Arcadia High School and its other performing arts programs, visit ahs.ausd.net.