Watch: Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 dance concert showcases creativity of students in the age of covid

The beauty of the biannual dance performance taking place in a virtual format this year is that it actually expanded possibilities of human connection.

Story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura.

(Above) At Virtual Leaps Fall 2020, a ballet performance: A Hilo Au. The dancer at the start of the video (:04-:32) is Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, the author of this story. Video by David Bennett and Kea Kapahua; music by the Galliard String Quartet.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Performing Arts Center has a longstanding tradition called Great Leaps, a biannual production that features dance students from both the university and Hawaiʻi Community College. The show provides students with the opportunity to showcase their artistic talents as well as technical progress within various dance styles including ballet, jazz, modern, and aerial.

Kea Kapahua dances in a black dress
Kea Kapahua. Archive photo.

This year, the production took on a new look with Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 being delivered to an audience in virtual space the weekend of Dec. 4-6. This online debut was the result of coronavirus restrictions that stopped classes from meeting in person both for regular classes and the end-of-semester performance. Dancers and choreographers were challenged in new ways, making the end result a revolutionary experience.

“Having a virtual Great Leaps performance was so important to me to keep our connection to the dance community within UH Hilo and to our greater community outside of the university,” says Kea Kapahua, head of the dance department and one of the leading contributors to the virtual showcase.

She explains that dance is meant to create and help human connection, something that many need during these troubling times. “Dance, music, and storytelling exist in every culture and we need to keep dancing, making melodies, and telling our stories even if the platform of delivery changes.”

Performance: A Hilo Au

Dancer at water's edge in ballet pose.
Ballet student Megan Kimata performs in A Hilo Au at the edge of Hilo Bay for Virtual Great Leaps 2020. Courtesy photo.

Watch video of full performance at the top of this story.

Performance: Ahe Lau Makani

Group of ballet dancers wearing black and red near water feature at Kalakaua Park.
Ballet dancers perform Ahe Lau Makani at Kalakaua Park, Hilo. At front is Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, author of this story.
Dancers leap in unison at Kalakaua Park, Hilo.
Ballet students perform great leaps at Kalakaua Park, Hilo. Courtesy photos, click to enlarge. Video of full performance below.

Video by David Bennett and Kea Kapahua; music by the Galliard String Quartet.

Expanding audience and broadening scope

The beauty of the biannual dance performance taking place in a virtual format this year is that it actually expanded possibilities of human connection. Those who registered to watch the show were provided a link to an unlisted video on YouTube. This link could be used from anywhere on the island or in the country. Once there, viewers could watch the show as many times as they wanted during the weekend that the video was up. No one had to worry about being seated behind a six-foot audience member or about the no-food rule of the theatre. Supporters were able to view the show at their own pace, in the comfort of their own homes.

Annie Bunker hangs from aerial dance equipment
Annie Bunker. Archive photo.

The online show also allowed choreographers to broaden their scope. For instance, Annie Bunker, a dance instructor for both UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi CC, included video projects of her classes from last spring and this past semester. This gave students who didn’t get a chance to perform last spring the opportunity to have their hard work shown.

“I am in awe of [my students’] dedication, drive, positive processing of material and their risk-taking enthusiasm that each and every one of them put forth throughout the semester,” says Bunker, who specializes in aerial, modern, and environmental site-specific dance. “This experience has left me convinced now, more than ever, that the arts have the power to transform humanity in ways that can produce positive, productive and necessary change.”

For Vitual Leaps Fall 2020, Bunker filmed at the Performing Arts Center stage and site-specific areas around Hilo including Liliʻuokalani and Keaukaha parks. In addition, for her environmental dance class, Bunker utilized, quite extensively, the rugged coastal and forested areas in south Keaʻau. Her spring students did an aerial performance while her fall students showcased the modern dance style as well as an environmental site-specific dance.

Performance: Environmental Dance

Woman on lava sea cliff with billowing white scarf that looks like a wave.
Student performs site-specific environmental dance at the ocean’s edge. Courtesy photo.

Video and music by Chuck Koesters.

Performance: Aerial Dance

Video and music by Chuck Koesters.

Home, hope, and resilience

Kapahua also took the opportunity to bring dance to different parts of Hilo. In addition to filming some sections onstage in the theatre with small groups, she went out into the community and shot on location of places including Kalakaua Park, Liliʻuokalani Park, and Wailoa Center. The variety of backgrounds played very nicely into her intended themes of home, hope, and resilience.

One particular teary-eyed performance featured a jazz class. Their contemporary dance to Andra Day’s Rise Up was just the type of uplifting performance that viewers needed to see. Dressed in white and filmed at a variety of locations including many of these dancers’ homes, the performance elicited feelings of love and the importance of being there for one another, even in isolation.

Performance: Rise Up

Five dancers stand on a circular floor mosaic, each with one arm extended him above their heads.
Students perform to Andra Day’s Rise Up at the Shinmachi Tsunami Memorial, a wave-shaped lava amphitheater near the Wailoa Center, Hilo. The ceramic mosaic honors the people of Hawai’i Island who were lost to both the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis. Courtesy photo. Video of entire performance below.

Video by David Bennett and Kea Kapahua; music by Andra Day.

Learning online

Kapahua says the students made tremendous leaps and bounds in learning dance through online methods despite the limitations of small bedrooms, dorm rooms, carpeted or concrete floors, and both music and video delays on Zoom.

In the video below, student Jordan Ancheta describes the process of practicing and filming for Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 during the covid era:

An expression of struggles and joys

Dance is an integral part of maintaining a sense of balance physically, spiritually, and culturally. Kapahua believes that it is a way that we connect with others, how we tell our stories, how we express our humanity when we don’t have words.

“Dance is a physical, mental and heartfelt expression of our struggles and our joys,” she says. “Dance is ritual as we enter the training space, clear our minds, don our dance shoes, warm up our bodies, and give ourselves over to being in the present time and space. It is within this ritual, this process, where our stories are created individually and collectively. It is through movement, through dance, where healing can truly happen.”

The Virtual Leaps 2020 show also featured a new section for students to speak on their experiences taking dance classes online. This is typically something not usually included in ordinary performances as students are expected to express themselves purely through movement. However, this part of the show went a long way to prove how determined and hard-working these students have grown to become.

Naomi Lemieux, a beginning ballet student, dedicated her screen time to encouraging others to take a chance on dance. “I haven’t been dancing for a long time, but I really enjoyed taking classes. It’s a really great way to diversify your education and feel comfortable in your own skin.”

Story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, who is earning a bachelor of arts in English with a minor in performing arts and a certificate in educational studies at UH Hilo.

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