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Westminster Dance Company explores dance in both real and digital space in ‘One Shot’

Cam Welch and Carly Schaub filming “One Shot.”
Cam Welch (left) and Carly Schaub (right) review their framing while shooting “One Shot.”
The showcase was filmed and directed by Carly Schaub with assistance from Cam Welch, with the intent to combine stage performance with screen dance.  (Photo Courtesy: Jacob Harrison)

“One Shot,” the dance-for-film showcase by the Westminster Dance Company, debuted April 16 via livestream with three distinct pieces: “Campus Accumulation,” “The Bewildering Beauty of Losing One’s Way,” and “Simultaneously Soloing.” The showcase was filmed and directed by Carly Schaub with assistance from Cam Welch, with the intent to combine stage performance with screen dance. 

The first and third pieces were collaboratively choreographed by the dancers themselves, with Schaub’s guidance and direction. The second piece, however, was originally choreographed by Salt Lake City dance-artist Nichele Woods and orginally set to debut in late March 2020. 

After being canceled amid the chaos of campus closures, the piece was resurrected and reworked for its new setting in Richer Commons and debuted over a year later. Two alumni, Nathaniel Woolley and Katelyn Killian, returned as well, dancing the piece that was intended for their senior showcase.

“I probably would’ve come back anyway, so that’s how I look at it,” Woolley said, speaking of his return as an alum. “I think we just canceled our pieces because we weren’t planning on having any sort of virtual concert. We didn’t want to, we were already tired and burnt out.”

Woods’ piece was originally choreographed for the stage in the Jewett Center. 

“For the safety of performing outside on concrete, the piece was largely re-explored and reworked—a wonderful opportunity that is as shiny as a silver lining can get,” Woods said in the choreographer’s note. “The ideas driving the piece were considered in how the camera was to be incorporated, as well, a challenge which became an exciting new element in the work.”

Remarking on the improvisational quality of the student pieces, graduating dance student Kate Blair said over email that she “felt that the One-Shot film encompassed the lived sense of uncertainty and togetherness [she] experienced this year as a dancer and human.”

“One Shot” and dance for film

Carly Schaub, the director of “One Shot,” developed an appreciation for screen dance as she completed work for her Dance M.F.A. at the University of Utah. She now teaches the Dance for Camera class at Westminster and has continued to grow her appreciation for the medium of film and video.

According to Schaub, much of her inspiration for staging “One Shot” the way she did arose from the widely acclaimed 2002 experimental film “Russian Ark,” which consists of a single, unbroken, 96-minute long Steadicam shot that traverses the Russian Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. 

Cam Welch records Nathanial Woolley and Isabelle Armstrong dancing for the showcase "One Shot."
Cam Welch records Nathaniel Woolley and Isabelle Armstrong as they dance in the film’s second piece: “The Bewildering Beauty of Losing One’s Way.” Woolley reprised his role in this piece, which was scheduled to debut last spring, just before campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Courtesy: Jacob Harrison)

“What fascinates me about that, since we’re dancers and we’re used to live performance […] is that there is a live performance aspect to a show like that,” Schaub said. “They had to get everything right, and everything had to go in order, for almost two hours.”

Schaub explained further, comparing the two pieces. 

“Theirs is obviously much more complex than we did, but since we’ve delved a lot into the screen dance realm, I wanted to do something a little bit more like a live performance,” she said. “But we still were going to video it and broadcast.”

“One Shot,” like “Russian Ark,” is intimately in dialogue with its location. As “Russian Ark” winds its way around what was once Russia’s Winter Palace and captures the echoes of its cavernous galleries, so too does “One Shot” slink around the back of Giovale Library, across campus to Gore, and finally around Converse Hall to Richer Commons. 

Viewers are treated to the sounds of the ambient environment: the sounds of shoes scuffing pavement, planes overhead and birds tweeting. 

The Future of Dance Film at Westminster

Both Schaub and her technology assistant Cam Welch appraise their experiences with screen dance similarly: some initial confusion and disinterest, followed by intense curiosity as each of them learned more about it. 

“I’ve had to shift my mind in that sense,” Welch said. “First I was trying to make a piece how I would for a stage, and I was getting so confused. And I’m like, wait, I just need to reframe my thinking because this is not for the stage, so what can I do?”

Once they were able to reframe their ideas about the form and function of dance for film, opportunities abounded. 

“Stages are great and all but there’s really so many unique opportunities you can have outside of a presidium stage,” Welch said.

Welch and Schaub affirm that digital dance is not something that is likely to go away alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, which inspired the shift in the first place.

“I remember having conversations with the students in Dance for Camera, last time it was offered, where they had all said ‘Yeah, it’s totally changed my viewpoints on choreographing,’” Schaub said. 

Schaub stated that the Dance Company is likely to restage “Glint,” their Fall Showcase piece, again this coming year, and Welch said that the company was looking to invest in its own audiovisual gear.

“Because of this, we’re looking into buying some gimbals and some more equipment for dance for film, because everyone’s been really excited about this ever since this year started,” Welch said.

“One Shot” and other recordings from Westminster’s performing arts programs can be found on the Westminster Performing Arts Vimeo page.

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Anthony Giorgio is a third-year communication major and research assistant at Westminster College. He specializes in filmmaking, design, and creative writing in addition to other artistic pursuits in his free time. Forever a coffee-enthusiast, he maintains a regular caffeine intake and is happy to answer any questions you have about coffee preparation or history. He would also like to take this opportunity to remind you to always tip your baristas and other service workers, and to tip extra for the duration of the pandemic.

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