Making Dance at a Distance

by Dance

Alexandra Ortega '11 is co-director of the Harvard Ballet Company. She has been working with a choreographer via video chat, and shares her thoughts on the process.

A Macbook with internet access is a Harvard dancer's most essential instrument. At least it is for the dancers working with Serena Mackool of the San Antonio Ballet.

I am serving as rehearsal director for Serena Mackool's new contemporary ballet piece that will be featured in the Harvard Ballet Company's spring 2010 production. Because of scheduling conflicts and financial constraints, HBC cannot bring Serena to campus to create her work. This is where the Macbook saves the day.

Each week, Serena emails me videos of her choreography, which she creates in the studios of the San Antonio Ballet. Rehearsals at the Harvard Dance Center begin with me teaching the new choreography. Then Serena works with Harvard dancers directly from her apartment in Texas. How? I log on to AOL Instant Messenger and start a video chat with Serena. Then I place my laptop in the corner of the room that provides Serena with the best available view of the studio. The dancers run through the piece with Serena watching. Serena then directs the rest of the rehearsal, working with the dancers on corrections she has for them. She is able to video chat with them individually, and this personal interaction gives her the ability to develop a relationship with her dancers, even though they are more than 1,500 miles apart. Neat, right? It's really fun, too.

As an economics concentrator, I personally appreciate how this new approach to choreography addresses some of the problems that dance companies face. As audiences continue to demand new works from arts organizations, who are limited by scarce financial resources, it is necessary that administrators find creative solutions to creating new art while lowering production costs but still preserving the quality and integrity of the work. The Harvard Ballet Company has developed one solution: integrating video conferencing with the creative process.

Video conferencing allows for more efficient art-making, as long as those engaging in it are aware of its challenges. It decreases the overall cost of the piece as companies no longer need to pay for travel and accommodations for the choreographer. Video conferencing also makes it feasible for choreographers to set their work on multiple dance companies simultaneously since they are spending less time traveling and are no longer limited by geography. When more than one company performs the work, more dancers gain from the process and more audience members are able to experience the work, expanding the impact of a single work of art.

The integration of video conferencing in the creative process clearly has the potential to inspire creation and collaboration that would not have been permitted due to financial and geographical limitations. The Harvard Ballet Company's dancers have been enjoying this fresh approach to choreography and look forward the new opportunities that this form of collaboration will make available.