Dancing for the camera

‘Washington University Dance Theatre: Aperture’ begins streaming Dec. 18

“Seeking Josephine Baker: Dancing on the Land” by Joanna Dee Das and Denise Ward-Brown. (Photos courtesy of the artists)

“Sometimes you catch yourself operating under old assumptions,” said choreographer David Marchant. “But like everyone in this time of pandemic, dancers are having to adapt.”

Marchant, professor of practice in dance in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is discussing “Aperture,” this year’s Washington University Dance Theatre concert. Typically presented in Edison Theatre, the annual event has been reimagined for 2020 as a “Dance for the Camera” film festival.

“We’ve gone through a lot of effort to figure out, not just how do we survive these times — not just how do we ‘make do’ — but what new capacities does this challenge push us towards?” said Marchant, who serves as the show’s artistic director. “What new opportunities can faculty create for students and in our own art work?

“We’re all learning together.”

“Shifting Ground,” choreographed by David Marchant (Photo courtesy of the artist)


“Aperture” will be streamed via the PAD website beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18. It will feature five original works choreographed by resident dance faculty and performed by student dancers.

“Each film is a standalone artwork, but we also wanted to honor aspects of a traditional WashU Dance Theatre opening night, and the live concert experience,” Marchant said. “We’re still making the same kinds of programming decisions — about mood, transitions and creating a sense of narrative — that we make every year. We want the arc of the show to have a feeling of continuity.”

For his own contribution, “Shifting Ground,” Marchant filmed dancers in a variety of campus settings, their movements largely improvised and quickly captured in just one or two takes. Hand-held, tracking-style shots were used to visually embed the viewer within the performance, as if the camera itself was “an unseen dancer.”

“Spatior” by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Also on the program are:

“Seeking Josephine Baker: Dancing on the Land”: Choreographed by Joanna Dee Das, assistant professor of dance, and filmed by Denise Ward-Brown, professor of art at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, this piece pays homage to the world-renowned singer, dancer, activist and St. Louis native. As a child, Baker “faced poverty and racial discrimination, but she also learned to dance to the rhythms of ragtime and the blues,” the creators observe in an artists’ statement. “Could we invoke her memory, even though the bustling neighborhoods of her youth have been torn down and replaced by highways, parking lots and utility plants?”

 “Spatior”: Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, director of the MFA Program in Dance, worked with film editor Ben Lewis to assemble this playful meditation on the simple act of walking. “Many friends and partners acted as videographers assisting with the flow of the individual scenes,” Knoblauch-O’Neal noted. “Although each cast member began sitting in a chair and ended closing a door, the in-between moments represent layers of textures and colors.”

“Party for the lonely” by Elinor Harrison (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Party for the lonely”: Elinor Harrison, a postdoctoral fellow in dance and in neurology, explores how social distancing and virtual connections have reshaped the choreographic process. Meeting over Zoom, Harrison and her dancers found themselves “dancing in tiny screens and creating tiny phrases for tiny spaces,” but soon moved outdoors to reflect on the arrival of fall, the feel of the earth and “the party we would throw when this pandemic finally passes us by.”

“Liminality”: Cecil Slaughter, director of undergraduate studies of dance, examines the intersection of outer forms and inner dialogues. Early in the semester, he asked dancers to create a movement phrase, which they periodically reprised over the course of several months. “As the dancers’ bodies become like instruments when repeating movements,” Slaughter writes, “their intentions evolve taking themselves, and us, to a new emotional space.”

“Liminality” by Cecil Slaughter. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)


“Washington University Dance Theatre: Aperture” will debut via the PAD website at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18. The production then will be available for on-demand streaming through Jan. 3.

The event is free for WashU students. Other patrons are invited to pay what they can, with a suggested donation of $10. Visit here to receive the event link.

For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.

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