UTEP's Dance Program Organizes Virtual Concert
Last Updated on February 04, 2021 at 3:00 PM
Originally published February 04, 2021
By Daniel Perez
An international audience is expected to tune into a virtual dance concert organized by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Theatre and Dance at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, on the department’s YouTube channel. Organizers will rebroadcast the show at the same time the next day, Feb. 6.
“HERE Moving Through the Pandemic and for Social Justice” will highlight the talents of seven students and faculty members who as soloists and members of ensembles will demonstrate various dance styles often set to original music. The acts were recorded during the past 12 months on campus and around the community. The 60-minute show will include four world premieres.
The concert also will feature a special performance by guest artist LROD. The performer, an El Paso native also known as Laura Rodriguez, is a dancer, filmmaker and educator who has built an international reputation through the years as a radical choreographer.
Melissa Melpignano, Ph.D., the show’s curator, called some of the solo performances “poetic and powerful” and mentioned one segment where creative editing of recorded rehearsals produced a choreographed movement of women that otherwise would not have occurred because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Melpignano, a lecturer and director of the department’s dance program, called this show a collective and collaborative endeavor that also involved UTEP alumni and international artists who blended skills in dance, music and technology. She believes the concert will draw an audience from around the world to support the artists and the event, which she titled “HERE.”
“Despite the pandemic and the difficulties and suffering it has created, here we are, affirming our bodies, our presence, our futures, our interconnection, our liveliness through dance,” Melpignano said. “I do hope our audiences will feel our deep desire to be, think and feel together through dance.”
The curator praised participants for their patience and passion. Some of the performers initially planned to showcase their talents during the spring 2020 semester and have endured several postponements. She said she started to plan this event last October to provide the program with a performance outlet. Some dancers, whose initial ideas were geared more toward a theater, had to rethink their concepts for video.
Melpignano said she was confident that the concert would succeed because the department has experimented with new formats for theater productions, and has used technology to empower its digital presence as well as to enhance its community outreach. She praised the student, staff and faculty participants for their ideas and support, which allowed them to make art and remain connected during the pandemic.
Among the performers will be Kaelin Li Walker, a senior double major in dance performance and women’s and gender studies. She called her capstone piece, “Yellow,” performance art with a message.
Walker, a native of China, was adopted as a baby by a single mother who was a soldier. She grew up in Northeast El Paso with an interest in musical theater. In 2018, she wrote a poem for a UTEP drama course about ethnicity. She based “Yellow” on that poem.
While she does perform some dance moves, the video is more of a series of spoofs based on four derogatory Asian stereotype characters from iconic movies, which she called “yellow face.” Walker, in makeup and costume, takes on roles from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Sixteen Candles, “Flower Drum Song” and “Ghost in the Shell.” All the while, she lip-syncs her poem as a new musical score plays in the background.
She said she completed her shoot on campus in four days last October with the help of eight talented friends as well as prop and costume assistance from her department and the UTEP Dinner Theatre. The video is just less than three minutes, and she was pleased with the result.
“I’m super excited about this,” she said. “I’m super excited to share this with the world. I hope they get my message.”
Walker said as bad as the year 2020 was, some elected leaders made things worse with their racially divisive nicknames for COVID-19 such as the “Chinese virus” or the “kung flu.” She said she hoped that her video would spur people to re-examine their perceptions of Asians in the media, in entertainment, on stage and in society in general.
The video alternative provided UTEP dance students such as Walker with another platform to perform and create as well as for the department to grow its audience, said Cristina Goletti, associate professor and chair of the theatre and dance department. She said the concert allows the department to continue to engage in dance in relevant and necessary ways.
Goletti, who also will perform in the concert, called dance a visual and visceral discipline that needs a proximity of bodies in space and time to be successful, but added that the online modality offers a lot of innovative possibilities. She said she relished the opportunity to be part of the event.
“I believe the stage is a sacred space, no matter where it is, so even a screen can become a very powerful tool to tell the stories that live in our bodies,” Goletti said.