The show must go on: Even virtually, UH Hilo Annual Dance Collective delivers

After being set back due to covid restrictions, a recorded version of the annual show, entitled “Dance Collective: Pandemic Edition,” premiered March 26-28, 2021. The show included works of eleven choreographers presenting ten pieces.

By Kiaria Zoi Nakamura.

Screenshot of dance piece “Selah” from the virtual Dance Collective: Pandemic Edition, March 26-28, 2021. “Selah” was choreographed by Zoi Nakamura. the author of this story.
Dori Yamada
Dori Yamada

Dance Collective is an annual production of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Performing Arts Center. The brainchild of Dori Yamada, assistant theatre manager who directs the show each year, the production is the only one of its kind bringing together choreographers and performers from all over the Hawai‘i Island dance community. The program usually includes pieces ranging in style from hip hop to jazz to contemporary, some with serious messages, some done for pure joy.

The 5th Annual Dance Collective was originally planned for the fall of 2020, but things were postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. It was decided to transform the production to an online venue, prerecording the pieces for release this spring. A recorded version of the show, entitled “Dance Collective: Pandemic Edition,” premiered March 26-28, 2021. The show included works of eleven choreographers presenting ten pieces.

The transformation from live show to virtual production was a challenge for Yamada and the show’s performers and choreographers.

“For many persons, myself included, there were no spaces available to hold any rehearsals,” says Yamada. “The limits on the number of folks allowed to gather at once meant that for the first time restrictions had to be placed on group size for the pieces. And of course, everyone had to wear masks, which definitely took getting used to.”

With so many restrictions in place, the production took on a completely new look and feel. Choreographers had to reformat their approaches, creating dances for the camera instead of a live audience. In a live show setting, audience members are privy to seeing a dance as a whole, from beginning to end without redos or alternate angles.

But in the prerecorded, virtual format, the art of videography allowed for new elements such as drastic scene changes, special effects, camera cuts, and close-ups. The final production was creative, inspiring, moving, fun, enlightening, everything that dance performances should be.

Collage of faces and "Dance Collective"
A collage of some of the dancers and choreographers of the “Dance Collective: Pandemic Edition,” which premiered virtually March 26-28, 2021. At front center is director Dori Yamada. At far right is the author of this story, Kiaria Zoi Nakamura.

Dance community is all in

Despite the extreme changes to a virtual format, there was still strong interest from local dancers and choreographers to participate. Talent came from a variety of places including Center Stage Dance Alliance, Island Dance Academy, Paradise Performing Arts Center, and UH Hilo’s own dance department. For many, Dance Collective is a special opportunity, one they can’t get anywhere else, and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Sharyse Molina
Sharyse Molina

Sharyse Molina, a UH Hilo alumna who graduated in 2019 with a double major in Japanese studies and performing arts with a concentration in dance, choreographed for this year’s Dance Collective for the first time.

“As a student I practically lived at the UH Performing Arts Center,” she says. “If I wasn’t there for classes or performances, I was there as a student worker.” She worked as a stagehand, lighting designer, and master electrician.

Prior to making her choreographic debut, Molina participated in Dance Collective as a dancer.

“From participating in Collective, I’ve learned that everyone has such a unique style that makes each Collective different and exciting. It has inspired me to try out different styles that I normally would not do. Collective has taught me what works in a piece and how to more effectively teach choreography to other dancers.”

She is thankful to Yamada for creating a space that has nurtured her choreographic abilities, and one that welcomes her artistic expression and that of many other artists.

“Dori has been a pioneer for the dance community by putting together Dance Collective and I can’t thank her enough for it,” says Molina. “She is an inspiration for me and many of the dancers that I know.”

Lawrence Mano also credits Yamada for inspiring and nurturing his love of dance.

Lawrence Mano
Lawrence Mano

Mano is a Hawai‘i-born dancer whose interest in performing arts started in high school and flourished in college. When he was a digital media and film student at Hawai‘i Community College, his love for the stage drew him to many auditions for UH Hilo productions. This was how Mano met Yamada, who grew to become one of his greatest mentors.

“She’s been there every step of the way,” says Mano, who even recalls Yamada speaking with him about Dance Collective back when it was still just an idea. “Dori put her word out for me back when I was auditioning, we danced alongside one another, she was there to talk me up to teaching, and she got me my first teaching class with the Center for Community Engagement.”

While at Hawai‘i CC, Mano instructed portions of UH Hilo dance classes over two semesters, choreographed multiple dance pieces, and performed in numerous productions. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career in 2019, but has made it a priority to return to Hilo each year for this show. For the past two Dance Collectives, he’s managed to choreograph from thousands of miles away and work with dancers who are based in Hilo. The week before each show, or in this year’s case, filming of the show, is the first time that he and his dancers dance in the same space.

Though not the most orthodox way of putting together a piece, Mano still describes the virtual process as a great experience.

“I’ve choreographed many pieces onto these particular dancers, and they’ve proven to me that they are capable and willing,” he says. In the end, he believes that the pros outweigh the cons and that any chance to still be a part of the Dance Collective community is well worth it.

“To me, Dance Collective is unity. It’s giving complete freedom to choreographers and creating potential for more artists,” says Mano. He is honored to be a part of that process, and ultimately, that’s what keeps him coming back.

“I want to see firsthand how big Collective becomes and how much bigger it will get. Fifteen years from now, it’d be nice to know that I had a hand in making it the success that it is bound to be.”

The vision

Through Yamada’s vision, her belief in local talent, and the dedication of performers and university staff, Dance Collective has grown into a major staple of the performing arts community here on the island. It is an investment that deserves to be made.

“I believe that for all the good that non-art discipline studies provide, art is what makes us truly human,” says Yamada. “It is how we express ourselves; it gives meaning to our lives and something to live for.”


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.