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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton Dance Company to debut film about past COVID-19 year

Feb 03, 2021 10:06AM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton High Dance Company performed and filmed a scene for their film “Unity” at Murray Park. (Lindsay Christensen/Brighton High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Brighton Dance Company adviser Lindsay Christensen is taking the hard year of COVID-19 to try to turn it into a positive teaching lesson.

“I always thought this year would get better when school started in the fall,” she said toward the end of 2020. “In July, I thought the numbers were high, but then we hit higher. I knew then we couldn’t hold our traditional dance concerts, so I turned to see what professional dance companies were doing.”

Christensen saw virtual concerts, but dancing for film intrigued her. 

“They made it look like a movie. It’s a totally different art form so instead of trying to do what we always have done, I decided the company should learn something new. We’ve created a dance for camera about the COVID-19 school year,” she said. “It made a lot of sense to try this instead of trying to put a square peg in a circular hole.”

That film, titled “Unity,” is expected to debut this spring. How and when it will be shown was still being worked out at press deadline, but Christensen hoped to have the Brighton community be able to see it, perhaps in a drive-in setting. If that doesn’t comply with the health guidelines at the time of the release, she said she would make the link available online.

During early fall, Christensen and the students learned how to dance for film and also, how to video and edit it from Raw Focus Dance in Arizona, who provided workshops.

Junior Lauren Jacobs said that they had to brainstorm scenes and then decide how they wanted it to look on camera.

“We looked at how to frame the dance, and how to portray the feeling and emotions of the time we were filming,” she said. “When we danced, we had to look past the camera and know how our movements would look on camera.”

Brighton Dance Company decided to choreograph the film with four 20-minute movements. The first section is what it was like when school was put on soft closure last spring and other businesses closed. The second focuses on what it was like being quarantined during the summer at home, away from friends, work and other typical summer activities. The third movement illustrates how the pandemic has affected people and the loss of lives. The fourth leaves viewers with a sign of hope as the pandemic vaccine is promised to be available.

“It’s really cool that the students are dancing, choreographing, filming and editing this project,” Christensen said.

The first movement is filmed in a classroom “where they explore how they felt in March,” as six student-dancers are dressed in normal school clothes wearing backpacks and dance to pop music.

“It has a more edgy feel,” Christensen said, adding that the dancers use both hip hop and contemporary dance to showcase the emotion.

While in quarantine, in section two, dancers performed at Murray Park. It features one dancer dressed in white creating dance movements in a giant box, while others, in black, danced to illustrate the outside world of political unrest, chaos and tension. Six dancers were showcased in this section.

Jacobs was one of three dancers who worked on section two.

“We wanted the figure inside the box to illustrate what quarantine life was like, using slow, repetitious movements. Outside the world was full of chaos, with everything changing fast and a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “We put the box with the solo dancer in the center of our frame because we knew we wanted the audience to focus there.”

Jacobs began ballet when she was 3, then started competing in jazz, modern and hip hop when she was 11. Her freshman year, she sat out of dance with a torn ACL. Then, she joined dance company as a sophomore and is the company’s unity officer this year.

Jacobs said many of the 17 other dancers also have a variety of dance in their backgrounds.

“What I like is that we’ve been able to use all our training in the past to really incorporate different dance styles in this film and to have it show different emotions and feelings of this year,” she said.

The third movement is a result of when students reached out to others to hear their stories. They interviewed a local nurse who went to help in New York City at the early peak of the pandemic to hear her story about how difficult it was to be there, and know patients were going to die away from their family.

“We Facetimed her and the students saw her face and learned the gravity of the situation from someone who had been there,” Christensen said. 

They also interviewed teachers, an individual whose dad had died from COVID-19 and others.

“We had a collection of stories from the consequences of COVID. Everyone has a story and a voice to be heard,” Christensen said. “It was a hard topic for everyone. We talked through it at the rehearsals and talked about various people’s experiences. They learned ‘faces’ to this pandemic, not just statistics. It was good to hear the truth, not a masked story; it was deep for high school students.”

She said that the seniors danced this section, using a heavy step to show the gravity of the pandemic and dressed in gray shirts.

Originally, Raw Edge Dance was going to choreograph and edit the fourth section, but because of the travel restrictions with COVID-19, they were unable to come to film it. So, Christensen planned to complete it in early 2021 with the entire dance company.

“We’re back at school, showing what has changed and how we’re living during the pandemic,” she said about the fourth section. “We’ve learned how to do new things, how to teach and learn and survive in a digital age. We will show how we’ve united and hope for better days after COVID. We’re moving forward and ending up on a note of hope.”

Originally, the film was planned to be done in the fall, but when Brighton flipflopped between in-person and virtual classes, the timeline got pushed back. The dance company even held some practices over Zoom. 

When they were able to practice together, they wore masks and like many sports, had temperature and health checks for all in the company. They even have assigned warm-up spots, so they can contract trace.

“It has made the company appreciate every time we’ve danced together,” she said. “They’ve been resilient and optimistic.”

Jacobs is happy with the way the dance company production is turning out.

“I think it’s pretty cool. We got to express ourselves with what’s going on,” she said. “It was sad that we aren’t doing our regular concerts, but this is such a cool learning opportunity and we’re getting to showcase what all our dance company can do.”