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A Year Of Distance Commemorated By San Diego Dancers

Mincing herbs, finding joy, washing dishes, and the news cycle: Disco Riot’s “A Year of DisDANCE” film looks at the last year through dance.

A still from the short dance film

Credit: Courtesy of Disco Riot

Above: A still from the short dance film "San Ko Fa," by Alyssa Junious. The film will screen as part of Disco Riot's "A Year of DisDANCE" on Sunday, Mar. 14 and Tuesday Mar. 16, 2021.

A year ago, Disco Riot was prepping a new show, rehearsing in the studio and getting everything ready for April performances at Art Produce. But on March 16, 2020, California officially received COVID-19 stay-at-home orders from Governor Newsom.

To mark the passage of time, the local contemporary dance company is presenting a set of dance films that reflect on a year spent apart: "A Year of DisDANCE." The dances, performed by one or two dancers, take audiences through the range of experiences, emotions and rituals of the last 12 months.

How to watch 'A Year of DisDANCE':

Cinema Under the Stars: Sunday, March 14, 2021 at 2:30, 4 and 5:30 p.m., $20. Sales end 24 hours in advance

Virtual: Tuesday, March 16, 2021, video on demand, $10

Find tickets here.

In March 2020, Disco Riot had also just finished up performances of "Choreo and Skate," which allowed audience members to skate around a roller skating rink while dancers performed in the center.

"So we had just come off of the high of a really, really fun event," said Zaquia Mahler Salinas, co-founder and artistic director of Disco Riot. "We got the orders with everyone else to go home and stay home. We took a couple of weeks to just kind of get our bearings. Everyone was just trying to figure out this new life."

Salinas pointed to the breadth of the uncertainty at that stage. "I've been reflecting on that a little bit, how everyone was so unsure of where we were headed and what to expect. We had no reference point," she said.

Like many creatives, they fast-tracked their way to thinking outside the box. "I think that one of the things that art is kind of essential for is mapping new ways and being creative in our response to how things are coming at us," Salinas said. "We get to make stuff that's a little bit different when we have these parameters. Responding to parameters, that's something that we do all the time when we're making art."

The group is also no stranger to the dance film model. Disco Riot produced an extended series of dance films this fall, leading up to the election, called Move American.

RELATED: Dance Is A Reflection Of Power: Short Dance Films Mobilize The Body And The Vote

"I've been really interested in dance film and working with dance and film as a medium for a long time. And often in conjunction with live performance, because I'm interested in how those things coexist," Salinas said. She added that the medium allows audiences to be guided in a way that's accessible. Directors and cinematographers can help streamline attention, whereas with a live, staged performance, all the visual and sensory components can be overwhelming.

And of course, being able to watch at home without the effort, intimidation and increased expenses of going to a theater also adds to the approachability of dance film.

For "A Year of DisDANCE," six local dancers were asked to reflect on some aspect of what they've gone through the last year — ranging from the pandemic to isolation to politics and social justice.

The works range from lighthearted to intense. In one piece, "Finding Light," by Alyssa Rose, she explores the process of seeking out joy, whether in dancing outside or while washing the dishes. Rose also created visual art to overlay on the video, recorded spoken texts and collaborated with music artists.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Disco Riot

A still from the short dance film "Minced," by Marcos Duran, which will screen as part of Disco Riot's "A Year of DisDANCE" on Sunday, Mar. 14 and Tuesday Mar. 16, 2021.

Another, "Minced," by Marcos Duran, involves a single, stationary camera shot of Duran mincing things like ginger and herbs. The piece is meditative, reflective and heavy. The news plays in the background and the work shows a juxtaposition between quiet practices and the riotous outside world.

And Desiree Cuizon's work, "I Miss Your Face," is about the way the affectionate expression falls short when the only way we do see our community is through their face on a screen. "I think as dance artists, the challenges have been really exacerbated. We can't share space with each other and that's so much of what we do. I think dance artists really thrive on that, as people not just as artists," Salinas said.

Additional works by Marlene Garcia, Alyssa Junious and Tanya Lewis complete the program.

Salinas wants audiences to feel a sense of belonging and understanding as they experience the dances, even though they'll be watching on a screen.

"One of the things that I find most important about dance is that it's an embodied art practice," she said. "I have a body, and I'm doing whatever dancing that I'm doing. But you as an audience member also have a body. Even if the bodies are different, something about watching another human being process through something in movement, we get this thing called kinesthetic empathy from that."

In addition to virtual streaming (on Tuesday, March 16), Disco Riot will screen the film publicly, in-person at the outdoor Cinema Under the Stars theater in Mission Hills. The group is hoping that they can cultivate some sense of community that they've missed over the past year, especially by sharing these particular works.

"These moments in time that have been captured by these artists are really universal in our experiences, especially Americans in this last year. Trying to find joy in washing your dishes or find your center in mincing herbs."

When asked what she wants to be doing in one more year, Salinas' answer is, of course, dance.

"By next year, this time, I really, really hope that we'll be able to get a nice, healthy audience of people out to do an activity and watch some dance, and have it be really fun and feel that sort of collective energy of everybody just in their bodies in a space together," Salinas said. "That's my big, big heartfelt desire for a year from now."

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Julia Dixon Evans
Arts Calendar Editor and Producer

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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