During the COVID-19 era, dance professor Susan Van Pelt Petry used dance, movement and performance to process and archive the emotional themes of the pandemic—along with the profound momentum that is building to change racist systems, people and policies. 19ChoreOVIDs reflects the intense, fraught and sometimes ludicrous journey of these times through 19 short pieces and corresponding essays.
#1. The Waiting Room
After weeks of teaching and meeting on Zoom, I along with the rest of the world, it seemed, were trying to situate our senses through the screen, and especially through the Brady Bunch effect of the grid. I was interested in capturing the disembodied feeling of sitting in our little squares, waiting for the borders to open up. I thought I would dance through the grid, one box at a time, but when Ric started to load it into Premiere, we saw the possibility of many messes all at once. Read More
#2. Touch and Go
Pandemic. Stay home. Get masks. Have fabric. Dig out sewing machine. Make masks. Give masks away. Make more masks. Wear masks. Begin to get used to the look and feel of wearing a mask. I picture doing a piece where I can only do eye make up because of the mask-wearing. Then I plan to wear as many masks as layers of the make up, doing a slow reveal until the last one. I thought it would be funny. Read More
#3. Breathing Room
My original list of concepts for my 19 ChoreOVIDs included: "Just trying to dance in a small space". As my dancing friends and colleagues have commented it is not just the amount of space that is needed for dancing, it is all kinds of other collateral attributes - some physical (floor surface and spring, ceiling height) and some more emotional and spiritual. Dance studios and spaces are often imbued with a kind of potential, a layering of past sweat and breath and imagination that fuels the present. There are rituals of entering; placement of bags, water bottles, foam rollers, and tape; Read More
#4. Deep End
Where did this idea start? I think as public pools were deciding whether to open or not, I felt sadness for the many children and adults who needed, depended on, or just loved going to the pool to cool off, socialize, and get exercise. The idea of a "water ballet" popped in my head (this is the older term for synchronized swimming, now an Olympic sport) and I envisioned a backyard "pool" where I could dance/swim drawing on my years of ballet training and swimming. I began to gather a costume somewhere between a ballerina, Olympic competitor, vaudevillian, and diva. Read More
#5. And Counting
This piece is literally layered. It is layered with its iterative stages of process, with clothing, with connotations, with sounds, and with my own evolution during the pandemic and social change movements. The movement originated as a phrase (a term choreographers use for a sequence or a "combo") in late spring 2020 when I had to teach my students dance technique online. It is derived from a "score" that has 10 movements initiated from the head, 10 from the shoulders, then an insert of 5 "whole body" movements, then 10 arms, 10 hands, 5 whole body, 10 ribs, 10 hips...Read More
#6. Six Feet Two Hands
Hand movements and gestures have been a frequent choreographic theme in my work. I think of the upper body fore-fronting emotional expression with the hands working utter magic in this regard. Usually, the lower body is supporting and locomoting, so the upper body is free to reach, communicate, interact with outside forces, and touch. Many people now are suffering a deficit of touch – air hugs only go so far, and gentle hands resting on arms or hand squeezes are off limits, not to mention full on physical contact. Read More
#7. Prayer for the World
We are not okay. The children are not okay. The teachers are not okay. Gaia is not okay. I despair at times; I wonder if this is in fact The Great Depression? I wonder if the tenacity of human nature that I’ve always believed in, is going to see us through. Through what? To what? A restaurant near us put up a sign at the beginning of the quarantine “See you on the other side”. It was oddly comforting at the time, as if we were just starting a game like seeing how long we could hold our breath...Read More
#8. Unpacking Pandemic
This #8 had some surprising hiccups and re-calibrations along the way. It all started when in April the word/concept of "pandemic" popped up in my mind while running and I kept thinking it triggered some related word for me and that was EPIC, and then I realized "epic" was actually contained in "pandemic" and the remaining 4 letters spelled DAMN. Read More
#9. Home Improvement (Good Trouble)
When I first brainstormed my 19 videos in response to the coronavirus, I jotted down the idea of painting on the wall of my home studio/office. Since it was due for a fresh coat of paint anyway, the idea of making a big mess of paint seemed an apt image for all the home improvement projects being talked about during the pandemic. I imagined a big mess of brush strokes on the wall using movement to dictate the arcs, swipes, and dabs. Read More
#10. The Center Can Hold
There is a labyrinth in front of an Episcopalian church near where I live which has always intrigued me. As I was plotting these 19 videos, I thought it could be a likely site for a piece, full of metaphor about journey, meditation, pathways through pandemics, search for spirituality, and more. A google click away I discovered it was the "Eleven circuit labyrinth" from Chartres Cathedral of which I have fond and profound memories experiencing as a teenager. Of course, life comes full circle. Read More
#11. Don't Just Sit There
In March 2020 many people entered into the world of Zoom – for teaching, meeting, and socializing. Along with colleagues and friends, I stumbled through the ins and outs of video, audio, chat, breakout rooms, and various approaches to Zoom etiquette. As the phenomenon of the “little boxes” and the strange disembodied gatherings became more familiar, jokes, memes, quips, and eye-rolls began to proliferate. Videos popped up - “How to Use Zoom Like a Pro”, “How to Look Better on Zoom”, “12 Zoom meeting tips”, etc. We learned to say “you’re on mute” and “thumbs up” became the international gesture...
I spent only one third of my first 18 years of life in the US. While living in other countries I was most definitely self-identifying as an American, and happily spent summers visiting our American relatives in Michigan, New York, and Connecticut. But I also had a troubled relationship to notions of being “American” - the cliché of loud American tourists seemed all too true and unattractive, and my mother with her British upbringing and Scandinavian blood openly criticized (even while we benefited) the capitalist machine.
#13. Rumpus Room
Having raised two boys over the past two decades, we have a collection of stuffed animals that continue to linger in our home. When planning this series, I thought that some kind of dancing with these cuddly and cute creatures could be an apt expression of all the hugs and cuddles people might be missing. Dancers miss the physical contact with others; families mourn the ability to hug beyond the zoom screen; children want to run up and hug their teachers.
#14. Social D ancing
When planning 19ChoreOVIDs, doing pieces about six-foot social distancing was a no-brainer. My #6 “Six Feet, Two Hands” was one, but here I envisioned making a 12-foot diameter skirt like an outrageous hoop skirt that makes doing just about anything impossible, especially touching anyone and dancing. I was further influenced by the fact that if you remove the “I-S-T” from “DISTANCING” you have SOCIAL DANCING. Read More
I experimented last summer with tipping my laptop sideways to capture a vertical image in zoom, which seemed more apt for a dancing body than our pervasive horizontal. It didn’t work for those on the receiving end. Pretty quickly I was playing with the resulting reversal of gravity, and it seemed a perfect metaphor for the disorientation of living through a pandemic. “Wall Tilt” went on my list of 19ChoreOVIDs. Read More
#16. Dinner Plans
A good dinner party has delicious camaraderie, delightful balance of colors and flavors, clever repartee and well-timed jokes, bits of flirting and flattery, and seamless serving and clearing. Tastes, treats, warmth, and laughter conspire to create an evening of rich stirrings, soulful intoxications, and unforgettable zest. Guests leave amidst confused kisses and hugs, dishes wait for the morning, and shoes are thrown off as hosts recount the scenes of the evening like a post-theatre review. Read More
I had a blank in my original list for this series since I figured that over time something would emerge that I couldn’t have know about in the first blush of the pandemic. Indeed, the grueling repetitiveness of working, living, eating, schooling, and managing everything day-to-day in small spaces became an overwhelming theme of our times. Read More
#18. In the Coming Weeks
In the early summer of 2020 when images and renderings of the COVID19 virus started to come out, the extravagant beauty of it struck me. I was drawn to those red spikes with strange curly edges, the spherical shape, sometimes shown as yellow, or purple, and the peculiar ways tendrils seemed to pulsate and morph. If COVID was a performer, it’d be a Diva: ravishing, electric, and compelling with an insatiable hunger for attention and adoration. I mused how one might make a COVID costume, and set that thought aside. Read More
"The COVID-era story:
We have been in a waiting room. It is touch and go. There is no breathing room. We are in the deep end; we hear 1,000, 10,000 and counting. We keep six feet apart and know we can’t touch. We want a prayer for the world while we unpack the pandemic. Our country needs home improvement, good trouble, and we hope the center can hold. Don’t just sit there! Pledge commitment, get in the rumpus room, or do some Social D ancing. Things get skewed but make dinner plans anyway. Soon Blursday will be over. In the coming weeks there will be grace."
The “19” of COVID19 refers to the calendar year 2019. Seems like eons ago! But it marks the year when this particular virus was identified and so named. I had this crazy notion in March of 2020 to make 19 little pieces and began to create in April, further chart out a plan in May, and now, in time for Valentine's Day 2021, have finished them, thanks to enormous assistance from Ric Petry.
I had long pondered what on earth I would do for the final one. Endings are important and in choreography, are often hard. I had thought we might make a video compiled of short edits from each of the previous 18, but more recently felt like the series needed a big dose of full-out dancing without props, and surroundings, etc. I craved dancing in a theater space with stage lighting and let the series end with an embrace of how expressive dancing can be all by itself. Many thanks to OSU Department of Dance Jonathon Hunter for playing with the lights for this.
I did add the text as captions - giving the viewer a choice to read or not, as I took the titles of #1 - #18 and recovered a narrative thread through the series. I share it below... It seemed a good way to tie it all together, as the series feels like One Work.
During the inauguration, Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace, and turned to the camera asking everyone watching to join in. We did and I felt like probably so many across the country did too. I was moved. So here I offer it as a hymn and a prayer for our country's healing - from COVID19 and from the existential turmoil of laws, beliefs, un-truths, and emotions. I pulled out my beloved tenor recorder, figured out how to lay a few tracks in Garage Band and voila.
Thank you for watching and reading this series; consider it a big Valentine's Day gift. Happy to hear thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org
The COVID-era story:
We have been in a waiting room. It is touch and go. There is no breathing room. We are in the deep end; we hear 1,000, 10,000 and counting. We keep six feet apart and know we can’t touch. We want a prayer for the world while we unpack the pandemic. Our country needs home improvement, good trouble, and we hope the center can hold. Don’t just sit there! Pledge commitment, get in the rumpus room, or do some Social D ancing. Things get skewed but make dinner plans anyway. Soon Blursday will be over. In the coming weeks there will be grace.