A fresh look at the annual dance concert, Away From the Mirror with Kristina Saldarelli
By Ella Spoelstra ’21
Away From the Mirror provides Carthage’s emerging artists opportunities to develop their inspirations through dance, to share in the development of their own production, and to engage in community discourse. The program features new dance works developed by dance minors in a less produced revelation of the dance making process. At the beginning of each new school year, dance minors are invited to share their ideas for new dance works, the most promising of which are selected for inclusion in the annual Away From the Mirror performance.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding thing about being the artistic director for this production?
This is actually the fourth year I’ve had the privilege of being the artistic director for Away From the Mirror. I think the most exciting thing about this production was all of the different elements the students brought to this particular production. Some of them designed their own sound. Students used sounds from the archives of the Library of Congress, from a metronome, and Caroline Huttner had a live percussionist onstage, Hailey Williams. Some of the students used sound in a different way than they had in the past, and really dove into that. When we do our Zoom event April 10 and 11, we have some licensing restrictions that we have had to account for. Due to this, some of the Zoom dances will be done in silence, but some students got creative and made their own sounds so they would not have to silence their music. That was one really cool element. And also it’s been great to see the way the students have adapted to wearing masks, to not being able to touch dance partners, with the expectation of one duet dance between roommates, and with the change in schedule for this year. They only had seven weeks, with two hours a week to rehearse and put brand new pieces together, and they did an excellent job.
Since AFM is an annual production, how has this year’s show looked different or the same in comparison to years past, pre-COVID?
In the first two years I was the artistic director, which were not consecutive years, they were very normal shows in terms of an audience, and the process with our three feedback showings. Last year’s production when COVID hit, we had to not only go to Zoom, but we didn’t even get to do anything in the actual theater. They would record choreography in their backyards or bedrooms, and some students worked on video editing. But for this year’s production, what was so different about it was our capacity for the audience. The maximum number of people in the audience per night was 36, and both shows were sold out. But I think the level of excitement after not being able to perform for over a year and then getting back onstage in front of a live audience was just exceptional. We had a talkback at the end of the Friday show and you could just tell the audience was really engaged and happy to be there watching live dance again.
Since this show centers on choreography from Carthage dance students, how is the process different from other dance concerts that primarily feature choreography from faculty and guest artists?
I’m usually involved in both of the two dance concerts that we put on at Carthage each year, and I’ve been a guest choreographer for many of them over the last five or six years. And in that process we do sometimes invite students to share the stage with the guest artists and faculty. But in terms of working with our professional choreographers, sometimes you’ll get to perform works that have already been created, or sometimes you get to be in a work that’s brand new. But there’s a different level of expectation from the choreographer from the student dancers, sometimes. And then when it comes to our AFM show, there’s a feedback process, which does not happen in the fall dance concerts. We have three feedback showings, and these are important. Stacy and myself are the faculty members on what we call the “selection committee”. Really our job is to give the students feedback. And then this year, Jaime Erickson, Jackie Chiakas, and Sarah Syverud, who was also our concert coordinator, were the student members of the selection committee. Typically we do the feedback showings in person, but this year we did them virtually. The choreographers streamed rehearsal footage, and the selection committee gave feedback based on the sound design, the choreography, and questions we had in order to give choreographers guidance and help them get deeper in their process. In the second feedback showing, we had Andy Miller present. He is a professional musician, and is also faculty at UW-Milwaukee, teaching sound design to the graduate dance students there. We invited him after he composed a piece of music for us in this year’s fall dance show, Flying and Falling. We asked him to give the students more sound design feedback and ideas. And then the third showing is getting ready for the final performances. Since I only saw the dances on Zoom for the first seven weeks, when we got to tech it was the first time I’d seen any of them live. And it was a great surprise.
Have you found any inspiration within dance from the events of this past year? How have you found yourself challenged or thinking differently as a teacher and as an artist?
I think it’s a little bit of a different answer depending on which “hat” I’m wearing. In terms of being the artistic director, I’ll speak mostly to that since we’re talking about AFM. Stacy and I really talked about how we can keep pushing the dance minor program, keeping it relevant. The times are changing, they always are, but because of COVID, things have changed drastically over the last year, especially in terms of live performance. This is why we really wanted to support the students in sound design, because the relationship between dance and music and sound design is something we’ve been questioning a lot. Designing dance for video is something that’s always been out there, but now we need to think about it even more. I think about how we can get creative with sound design and what resources are out there for us to collaborate with other performers. We’ve often relied on liking a piece of music as our reason to choose to choreograph to it. And I think that became the structure. But now we are trying to reframe what choreography is and how it’s connected to mute sound. Dance can come before the sound, which is not something we typically think about. And then in terms of the increase of awareness about racial injustices since COVID hit, Caitlyn Feldpausch has a piece in the show called “The Innocence Project”. Living in Kenosha, she was really impacted by the riots that happened in her neighborhood. She went into the Library of Congress archives and found a traditional African hymn, Oh Jonah!, which was performed by the Golden Jubilee Quartet. She used art to gain awareness, and I think that’s beautiful and powerful. As a faculty member who teaches tap and jazz, which come from West African roots, I’ve been trying to open our eyes more to the history of where that came from. These historical roots are often not taught as much in dance studios. We are trying to keep learning, sharing, and discussing, and how that all impacts our art making.
What do you hope audiences take away from this year’s Away From the Mirror?
I think it’s a two part question. We had our small audiences that got to see it live, and I hope they remember the joy and just what a privilege it is to sit in a theatre and experience live performances. There is nothing like it, and it’s gotten taken away from us, but now it’s coming back. And in terms of the Zoom audiences we’ll get, the great thing about Zoom is that anyone around the world can watch, all they need is internet access, so that’s wonderful. I hope these audiences not only get to enjoy the show, but also that during the Q&A portion between myself and the choreographers that audience members get an insight into the choreography process. They can learn about how a choreographer may come up with an idea, how they get inspiration, and create movement and sound design. These are all questions people may or may not think about when watching dance, but it brings light to the depth of the process of creating choreography.
The Carthage Theatre Department completed the live performances of its annual dance concert, Away from the Mirror, with artistic direction by Kristina Saldarelli and choreography by Carthage students March 5-6. I had the opportunity to speak with Kristina about the creative and logistical process, and the challenges and joys of creating dance during this time. And excitingly, the performances will also be available online April 10 at 7:30 pm and April 11 at 3 pm. These performances will be a pre-recorded Zoom call with Kristina Saldarelli and the choreographers. No registration or tickets required.
Live-stream link: www.carthage.edu/multimedia/webcast-3