Dancers slowly work themselves into routine in time to Ingrid Michelson’s “Light Me Up.” Delicate movements and fluid motions run through the bodies of the cast as their synchronized video squares fill the screen in shots of bedrooms, a New York City roof, and a grass field in a park.
The MaMa Project, a satellite organization of Columbia Orchesis, the largest student-run dance organization at the University, premiered its final project of the year “Within” on YouTube on April 25. The performance was pushed back from its original premiere on April 23 due to technical difficulties.
Abigail Schreier, BC ’21, was selected by Orchesis prior to the pandemic to choreograph her performance concept for the group. Originally, Schreier’s vision was to cast 10 to 12 dancers to portray the dancing brain, each serving as a part of the organ.
With the production being moved online, Schreier’s new idea for her choreography was to capture the essence of human interaction and how it has changed in the last year.
The performance connected the videos of 10 remote cast members in various locations. The opening dance featured all 10 dancers from Barnard and Columbia in shots that both synchronized moves of pairs through split-screen editing and gave viewers a look at solos from bird’s-eye views and upward facing angles.
A black placeholder temporarily filled the screen as the next song, “Rooftop Dancing” by Sylvan Esso, began. Sanjana Marcé, CC ’21, and Zoe Novello, BC ’21, welcomed viewers to a grass field where scenes of the dancers together and individually were edited together. Marcé and Novello filmed their routine at various angles, with moving shots that gave a 360-degree view of their complex arm movements and a steady shot that filmed both dancers at different times, juxtaposing their synchronized movements.
Through a fully virtual performance, the ensemble had the opportunity to explore new creative outlets in displaying their routine. The new virtual format forced dancers to record their choreography, but rather than feeling limited by this new requirement, Schreier and the cast took this opportunity to add variety by filming the routine in various ways.
“I asked them to come up with a creative angle, whatever their space allowed,” Schreier said. “I wanted to get some more fun, interesting ways to look at to look at the dance.”
The performance moved into its third song with “When We’re Fire—Cello Version’' by Lo-Fang, with a grainy shot of a dancer sitting on her bed. This part of the performance featured a trio of dancers, Athena Pagon, SEAS ’23, Iz Amos-Landgraf, BC ’22, and Emma Chen, BC ’21, whose routines were blended together. Their three video squares were edited together in a mix of layouts which showed them together, two placed at opposite corners of the screen, or alone.
This year, the MaMa Project also had a quartet of its dancers living together. Schreier was thus allowed to choreograph the last song of the performance, “Favorite T-Shirt” by Jake Scott, with all four dancers working alongside each other. This last portion of the performance featured the four cast members dancing together on their couch and on their apartment rooftop, where viewers could see the routine come together in its final moments. Scenes of the four sitting together laughing as they shared drinks and spoke together marked a sense of community within the group.
While the MaMa Project was forced to go remote this year, Schreier and the ensemble created a performance which demonstrated that distance could not stop the group from coming together as a team. An influx of creativity helped “Within” serve as a creative outlet that highlighted the camaraderie of dance, regardless of the circumstances.
Editor’s Note: Performers Liz Radway and Emma Danon are Arts & Entertainment staff writers. They were not involved in the writing or editing of this article.