The term nepantla is used by indigenous people of Mexico to refer to the idea of being “in between” or “in the middle.” So it is no wonder that artists Andrea Guajardo and Martín Rodríguez selected the name for their New York-based ballet company, which fuses the genres of classical and contemporary ballet with traditional Mexican folklórico dance.
But for East Carolina University’s spring dance concert, the word perhaps has taken on new meaning. Guajardo choreographed a piece by that title during her residency at ECU in the spring of 2020, and students were in the middle of rehearsing it when the coronavirus pandemic forced the performance to be canceled.
Guajardo returned virtually to restage the work for Spring Dance 2021, which will be shown this weekend.
“We are putting it back on the stage, replacing some of the seniors that have graduated,” Jayme Host, director of ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance, said. “So we’re excited that (it) gets to be performed.”
“Nepantla” is among three works featured in the concert that are making their stage debuts 12 months later than planned.
In the fall of 2020, dance was one of the few majors permitted to continue in-person instruction while the majority of other classes were offered exclusively online. This semester, it is among about 30 percent of ECU classes to be taught on campus.
“We were very fortunate to have the administration approve our unit being one of the units that we can do regular testing,” Host said. “So every three weeks the university provides testing for our students to make sure we can keep control of cases with asymptomatic carriers and that’s been very helpful.”
Since fall semester, dance students have been able to resume performances in ECU’s McGinnis Theater. But they have not yet been allowed to open the doors to allow audiences to return.
“We are back after a year without main stage dance concerts for our biggest show of the year,” said associate professor Teal Darkenwald, who serves as coordinator for the concert and is one of the choreographers.
Featuring a variety of styles including ballet, tap, jazz and modern, it has been filmed to be streamed online Friday through Sunday.
In addition to Darkenwald, four dance faculty have choreographed dances for the production. Assistant professor Jessica Teague, in collaboration with recently retired professor Galina Panova, staged an excerpt from Marius Petipa’s classical Russian ballet “La Bayadére.” Host choreographed a contemporary piece titled “inter nos lumen” as part of the Loessin Playhouse season for the first time in her tenure as director.
This weekend’s concert is also a first for teaching assistant professor Alicia Laumann, a dance faculty newcomer, who has created a multi-media piece featuring original projections. Dance area coordinator Tommi Overcash Galaska has choreographed a jazz number, “Spotlight,” that features the graduating dance majors.
Senior dance student Liza Eller was selected to choreograph a piece for the concert, which she titled “eiTHEr forcEd or fouND.”
“This work is a representation of the closing of many chapters,” she said. “I am sad my time at ECU is coming to an end but I could have not asked for a better experience.”
ECU dance program graduate Lindsey Shephard, who was a guest artist last winter, choreographed “Bar Talk,” a tap piece that has been remounted for this production.
Teague said working with guest artists helps to prepare dancers for professional pursuits.
“Being a versatile dancer with the ability to interpret a diversity of ideas and concepts is an essential skill for anyone wishing to enter today’s professional dance field,” she said. “Investigating dance through different perspectives and processes with professional artists not only strengthens the technical level of our students but also develops their understanding of the historical roots and stylistic elements in global dance trends that they can apply to their own artistic practice.”
Host said circumstances surrounding the pandemic have taught dancers additional lessons in resourcefulness and adaptability.
“I have to say that I think we have a benefit to many professions because our students are great creative thinkers, they know how to pivot accordingly and they’re problem solvers,” she said. “They’ve been really wonderful.”
ECU’s Spring Dance 2021 will stream at 7:30 p.m. April 9-10 and at 2 p.m. April 11. Tickets are $10 and available online at theatredance.ecu.edu or by calling the box office at 328-6829. Tickets for ECU students are available for $5 by calling the box office. The ECU/Loessin Playhouse virtual season will continue with “Lysistrata,” adapted by Ellen McLaughlin, April 30–May 2.