Ophélia Martin-Weber and Rianna Logan both braved a full year of online training.
Ophélia, a second year Training Program student taking classes in the confines of her neighbor’s garage, remarks that the shift to a virtual program has changed her focus. At home, she turned her attention internal, studying what happened inside herself as she moved. Rianna, on the other hand, only knows a virtual experience. Joining LINES from Vancouver, Canada, this is her first year as a Training Program student. Although their backgrounds with our Training Program vary, Rianna and Ophélia have both successfully navigated a rigorous and rewarding program virtually during a global pandemic. Read on for their reflections on the past year of dancing from home.
How was your experience completing the Training Program from home? What was your space like? Were you able to get into the right mindset without being in a studio?
Ophélia: At first, adjusting to the reality that classes would be virtual indefinitely was hard to accept. Focusing on my mental health was my top priority to prepare for my return as a second year in 2020-2021. For me, that was finding balance between spending time outside, exploring other ways to be creative (outside of dance), and constantly brainstorming ways to find motivation. I had also participated in the two week Online Pre-Professional Summer Program and it helped me gauge how I’d handle a similar schedule when the program picked up in the fall.
I am one of the few fortunate enough to have access to a large amount of space to dance in. My neighbor, a retired professional dancer now-seamstress and costume maker, has been kindly sharing her studio-converted-garage with me for the past year. No doubt has it served as a reminder that there are others out there who can only dance in small spaces. One thing that Maurya Kerr said that has stuck with me since the fall was, “As long as you show up something’s gonna happen.”
Rianna: This past year I’ve realized that as performers we can fall into a trap of dancing in an external world where we become self-indulgent and our ego takes over. Before my experience training with LINES virtually, I often tried to prove myself to other people in the room or the audience, but I found that training in my kitchen at home has really brought everything more internal and has allowed me to have a more personal experience within my dancing. This isolated practice has given me the opportunity to uncover a way to dance for myself yet still be able to remain selfless in the process.
Did your perspective on dance shift taking classes from your home? How were you able to adjust accordingly?
Rianna: I know I am a visual learner, but as learning transitioned from a 3D to a 2D form, it felt completely foreign. At first I would get so frustrated when I couldn’t pick things up fast enough, but through the year I got more comfortable with committing to movement when I was unsure of what the instructor wanted. I was able to feel more comfortable with failing, with things not becoming what I thought they would be, and with not having any expectations. In this failure, I often found growth in my artistry.
Ophélia: My perspective on dance has both broadened and narrowed since I’ve been dancing in isolation. Broadened in the sense of creativity, having to work around obstacles, and make use of whatever I do have at my disposal. As to how it narrowed my view, it was as much external as it was internal. It’s literally narrowed my views since my classes and peers are condensed into one screen while my one body has to energetically fill in the rest of my dance space. In a sense, this has shown me that a career in dance is more self-reliant than I originally thought. So I guess most of all, it’s narrowed my view on what I want from dance. I’m still working out the specifics on what that looks like, but so far, I do know I want my presence in the dance world to be impactful.
What were some of the pros and cons of training virtually?
Ophélia: The most beneficial outcome of this predicament has been the encouragement of more internal exploration. But at the same time, the biggest struggle for me has been missing the energy we would create in a physically shared space versus a virtually isolated space. Back when I danced with my friends and teachers at the iconic LINES Ballet studios in San Francisco, I could feel the dedication reverberating off the walls. There was a buildup of excitement as we explored various concepts together, and that connection has proven to be the hardest thing to recreate through a screen.
The privilege of being a second year student in the Training Program is that usually you are offered additional classes on how to further your personal development, both of yourself professionally and artistically. Before COVID, I was really looking forward to dancing with the BFA Program. We’re normally so busy with our separate schedules, and it was a rare opportunity to engage and interact with what feels like a distant sister program. With the in person performing opportunities also came great guest artists or choreographers. This was a time to kindle professional relationships and prepare to pave our own paths for leaving the program. These pieces of the transition from student to professional dancer were missing due to the experience being virtual.
Rianna: I am a driven dancer and rarely found myself lacking the motivation to do classes at home, but it was difficult to find the same feeling of community that is harnessed while training with others in the studios. Fortunately, we found ways to connect with one another and make things seem less distant, but nothing will beat being in the same room as each other. Without an instructor physically at the front of the room and no peers surrounding you, you have to become extremely responsible for your continual growth and devotion in this virtual environment.
What was it like creating work for the Student Choreography Showcase?
Rianna: I promised myself before I started this project that I would create without expectations. The theme of the piece is imagination and how it is a manifestation of our memories. Since everyone has individual experiences, it created a unique tone for each of the dancers’ sections. Due to the fact that we all live in different places in the world, we were restricted to developing something for the screen; this led to experimenting with film. It was quite amazing to see how each of the dancers coordinated the camera into the choreography and how this incorporated their imaginations. This project was definitely a huge step in my choreographic explorations and it makes me very excited and eager for the future.
Ophélia: Getting the chance to work with my peers, old and new, on student choreography was refreshing. It reminded me that I’m not dancing with 2D animations of people in small boxes, but actual people who are physically present in their own 3D spaces. It takes a conscious thought to be aware of the fact that I’m not truly alone, though it may feel like I am physically.
What are your takeaways of this virtual experience with LINES?
Ophélia: This whole virtual experience has taught me the importance of holding myself accountable. If I want something to happen in my life, I have to make it happen.
Rianna: Art is how we live life. It is not constrained to the studio or the theatre, it is in everything we do. We don’t need a studio or a theatre to feel fulfilled, we already have everything inside us, we just need to realize it. As Alonzo says, “The gold is inside of you.”
Written by Spring 2021 LINES Ballet Intern Marissa Mahoney.
Photography courtesy of Ophélia Martin-Weber and Rianna Logan.