A trio of dancers flow through breathtakingly graceful motions. They fly across the stage, sweeping their arms up above them and reveling in the fluidity of their movement. Audience members sit before the performers. Many of the viewers appear to be lost in awe at the artistry and communication between each dancer.
Audiences are essential to the performing arts. A piece might be thought-provoking for a viewer, or make them see a reflection of themselves in the work performed on stage. Dancers on stage paint a vivid image; it’s up to those seated under the dim light of a theater to interpret it.
Unfortunately, audiences no longer get to experience the thrill of live theater. COVID-19 has put a temporary halt on the world of live performing arts that dancers and audience members alike crave. Over the course of the past year, many artists have had to alter their creative process due to challenges, such as social distancing, putting the dance community on hold. Brooklyn-based choreographer Nicole von Arx, for example, is exploring ways of performing to reach a new audience in a new world; in many cases, that audience is a virtual one.
Her dance film titled Bright Night, premiering at Seattle’s virtual dance festival CHOP SHOP on February 4, embraces these challenges that quarantine has brought to both performers and audience members. As the pandemic rages on, theaters that many dancers call home and the hundreds of seats that fill them have been left dormant. Von Arx’s latest piece is inspired by the feeling of isolation the pandemic has brought. While filming Bright Night, she felt a lot of sadness, as did the dance community as a whole, not being able to perform live or connect with audiences in real-time.
“I didn’t want to put a facade on top of that feeling,” von Arx said. “I actually really wanted to embrace that feeling of desperation and loneliness.”
The title of the piece is a contradiction in itself; it’s about brightening the darkness we feel. According to von Arx, “... it’s important as artists to allow people to feel sad, as well as happy.”
Von Arx has a powerful relationship with her dancers who bring her visions to life and play a key role in her work. She often collaborates with dancers who are already familiar with her movement style and choreographic vocabulary, in order to communicate with them best.
“There’s a moment in the rehearsal process where I really have to step back and look at what I have to say,” she said. “You can give emotions and imagery to a dancer, but there’s a point where you have to step back.”
What she has to say with her choreography often has a lot to do with the audience.
Von Arx explains that her recent creative process has more to do with the audience ark, what the audience members feel, than the performance on stage. She believes a performance is relative to the viewer, and instead of just the performers on stage going on a journey, she wants to have the audience be involved on that journey as well.
In December 2020, she premiered her solo Nine. Von Arx had the opportunity to perform for a limited live audience, in which everyone was spread apart and wore masks to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Having not performed for months, she wanted so desperately to connect with the people seated before her who were also yearning for performance. For that reason, during the performance, she incorporated moments of collaboration with the small and intimate audience. She performed a free and easy-going monologue, in which she asked questions such as, “How are you?” and “What are you feeling?”, and gave them directions to stand up or turn around 360 degrees.
For von Arx, witnessing these moments of interaction, laughter, and joy after months of their absence was extremely compelling. In regards to her creative process and inspiration, she said, “I think that’s my journey and how I’m going to delve more and more into connecting with audiences and taking them into a journey because, why not?”
You can see more of von Arx’s work on her website.
Nicole von Arx's work is featured in CHOP SHOP Dance Festival’s online offering. The dance films are available on their website through March 31, 2021.