The experience of living through COVID-19 has been a crisis of immense magnitude, and so it's not surprising there has been an outpouring of dance creations around that experience.
For an industry whose vocation is centered around the body and touch is key, social distancing and isolation were foreign concepts for dancers and their companies. But like everyone else, they turned to Zoom and connected virtually. Now, even though venues are open again, audiences are heading back indoors and the pandemic is not at the forefront of conversations, some artists continue to share works that reflect on COVID-19.
One such person is choreographer Paula Mann, whose "Toward Utopia" opened at the Center for Performing Arts in Minneapolis on Thursday.
The work was divided into seven different sections, performed by an ensemble of five dancers. Throughout the sections, a push-and-pull of chaos and stillness emerged as the dancers searched toward a better place.
Mann incorporated gestures from everyday life and modern-day culture, turning a shrug into part of a larger sequence, for example. She also employed distinctive abstract phrases — like a backward kick done with a bent leg as the dancer leans forward. Often, one dancer would originate a series of these peculiar movements and then it would be repeated by the other performers.
The work was performed to a moody sound score by Tarek Abdelqader, against a backdrop of Steve Paul's video projections, which began with a shot of an apartment building. What appeared at first to be a still photograph turned out to be video. Cars passed on the street, the wind blew the yellow leaves from the trees. And the dancers seemed to be dancing in an urban park.
Paul's projects blurred as the piece progressed, morphing into abstract shapes. The visual component mirrored the arch of the dancers' journey as they navigated their way from isolation and selfish individualism to working in communion and connection.
Dancer Leila Awadallah delivered an engrossing performance. Both grounded and fluid, her arms reached out toward the horizon and the sky with energy that seemed to shoot out with light. Near the end of the piece, Awadallah appeared onstage with a projector, shining Paul's work onto the other performers and then toward herself.
The compelling moment offered a glint of not only hope but a spark of optimism for a new kind of future.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat.
Where: Center for Performing Arts, New Black Box Theater, 3754 Pleasant Av., Mpls.
Tickets: $20, pay-as-able for matinee, timetrackdance.org.