Dancing in the film ‘Humanimali’

By Sawyer Newsome

This year has definitely been a year of unexpected situations and speed bumps in the field of dance. What I have enjoyed about Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company is how they have embraced the challenges of this pandemic and have looked for other ways for dancers to survive, produce their work, and have it be seen. Our audiences can now experience our work without having to be in the same space. This video project has been an amazing example of how the arts can still exist in this world during a pandemic.

When I graduated this past May from Rutgers University, the pandemic was already taking so much control of the performing arts world. This made me nervous to enter the professional field because I didn’t even know what it was like to experience company life in a non-pandemic world let alone a pandemic world. I never expected to be in such a unique process as the one we have gone through for this film ‘Humanimali’. Not only are we given the opportunity to rehearse in a studio and train in our craft while wearing masks, but we are able to produce these works’ for audiences to see in ways we never thought would be possible.

We have explored different parts of the animal kingdom from creatures as tiny and structured as ants, to those as powerful and free as wolves. Doing this has been a very invigorating process both for my love of dance and for my love of the animal kingdom. It was great to learn more about the habits of the animals we are co-existing with and how to portray them in an abstract-artistic way.

I had the privilege of being in three different pieces; the first being inspired by ants. This piece dove into the militaristic nature of ants and was choreographed by Kamrie McCandless. We portrayed how a colony of ants interacts with one another as well as what they do when one of their own is infected. Using very linear and direct patterns of formation and spacing, this piece created very strong ideas of precision and unity. What was also very interesting about this film process was the component of using drone footage for aerial shots, which was a new component for me.

The next piece I was in was PAIR, choreographed by Roxanne Gray. This piece was an exploration into the various courtship rituals of animals. The animals that were portrayed include birds, stingrays, pufferfish, spiders, snails, and caterpillars. What really excited me about the whole process of this piece was the various site specific locations that we got to work in. We went from dancing in fields and rivers in Diamond Fork Canyon to dancing in the sand dunes of Little Sahara. I have always been interested in the ideas of site specific work and this piece gave me the opportunity to explore that interest. I also enjoyed working with Roxanne and how she explained the various components of all the animals and how we were portraying them. I am grateful she was able to come down to Utah from California to be a part of this film.

The third and final piece I was in was inspired by wolves and was choreographed by Jessica Heaton in collaboration with her dancers Rachel Calabrese, Ruby Cabbell, and myself. Since I was a little kid I have always been interested in wolves due to their strong, powerful nature and pack-like quality they exude. The process in creating this specific piece was especially nice because we got to include many of our own ideas and choreography taken from our improvisation. We also were able to draw ideas from visual components such as pictures and videos of wolves and how they interact with each other. This piece also had a strong site specific component to it as well; we had the opportunity to film this piece in Highland Glen Park to try and capture the essence of a wolf’s natural habitat. I’m grateful for the chance to delve into an animal I have a very strong interest in and find ways in which movement could resemble the feelings of these animals.

During this time of COVID- 19 I am grateful the company was able to look at how dance can be performed in a different way other than on the proscenium stage. When I graduated in May 2020 I never thought I would be given the opportunity to perform and rehearse and I am so grateful to Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company for creating this opportunity. I look forward to what is in store for the company’s future.