The IU African American Dance Company will perform its 47th annual spring concert from the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The virtual performance will be livestreamed on Zoom. Tickets are available for purchase to watch the livestream on a sliding scale of donations from $5 to $30.
Director Stafford C. Berry Jr. said the performance is about the pivoting the group has done during the pandemic. To adapt to a virtual format, the students had to learn how to dance on video together. This semester, they have rehearsed together in the dance studio and will perform together in person, without a live audience.
“What’s special about this concert is that we’ve had the opportunity to learn new ways of doing our usual work with live audiences,” Berry Jr. said. “We buried and mourned what we used to do so that we could give space, give rise to, and have borne this new way of what we’re doing.”
Berry Jr. said the dance company will perform eight works with the theme of emerging from the challenges of the pandemic. He said they tried to focus on how to change and adapt to the situation rather than hoping for when things can go back to normal.
“They are a lot more resilient than they thought they could be,” Berry Jr. said. “That’s what we do as the African American Dance Company. That’s what we do as brown and Black and other marginalized bodies.”
Berry Jr. initially had difficulty choreographing over Zoom and teaching dance with a mask on. Tyler Myles, an associate instructor and graduate student, said having virtual rehearsals posed a new challenge to be the liaison between coordinating the students and working with Berry Jr. on the choreography. Throughout the semester, Berry Jr. asked the students to film their dances to acclimate to working with a camera.
Freshman Gabriella Bain said she had fun exploring the concept of time and space in regard to having pre-recorded and live virtual performances like the spring concert.
“It’s been a challenge but also really rewarding to dig into the idea of having an audience,” Bain said. “When we record we have an audience, but it’s in the future.”
Co-president and junior Kenzie Browning said working up to this performance required her to learn to trust herself and others.
“We’re constantly pushing past all these physical boundaries from dancing like having to wear these masks and pushing the boundaries of what is dance and how to do it,” Browning said. “You’re constantly trusting, or it’s going to flop.”
Kim Morris-Newson, who has worked with the dance company for 17 years as a supporting instructor alongside Berry Jr. said she felt she had to take a mother role in comforting the students while also pushing them to go further.
“We had to show the world what it takes to stand up now,” Morris-Newson said. “We can’t sit down, we can’t lay back and watch the world. No, we’re the leaders, we’re gonna show you through dance and through our lives.”
Freshman Alivia Brown said she grew through the adaptations and the pushes from Berry Jr. The bi-weekly rehearsals and performances such as the spring concert have kept her distracted from her everyday struggles and given her something to look forward to.
“The biggest way I’ve grown is in mental strength,” Brown said. “It’s a balance of being mentally strong but also not letting myself crumble to everyday things that are always changing.”
Several of the dancers agreed they have learned to embrace the changes rather than give up. Sophomore Terence Flynn said he was happy the group continued to exist despite the pandemic.
“To be able to dance with everybody this year, even if it was virtual, was still better than if I was sitting at home,” Flynn said.
Berry Jr. focuses on African dance and believes that dance reflects the community it originates from.
“Black art and albeit Black dance is the creative work and outpouring from predominantly Black people that serves the aesthetic and the functioning of that community,” he said.