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K-State Today

January 28, 2021

JMC's Keener presents at 'Rooms' symposium

Submitted by Tom Hallaq

Laura Keener, a fall 2020 Journalism and Mass Communications graduate, presented a short, prerecorded video at the virtual conference "Symposium — Celebrating 65 Years of 'Rooms'" hosted in December 2020 by the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble in New York City. "Rooms" is a dance choreographed by Anna Sokolow in 1955.

The Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble was scheduled to present the 65th-anniversary performance of "Rooms" at the Mark O'Donnell Theater in Brooklyn on April 15, 2020. Unfortunately, the performance was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In place of the opening, the ensemble staged versions of "Rooms" on several different collegiate dance ensembles this semester. The Kansas State University dance program was among the few selected for this unique performance.

The Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble has been teaching — virtually — sections from "Rooms" since fall 2020 to college dance departments and companies around the country. Students at seven organizations, including K-State, have studied and presented excerpts of "Rooms," and no two have produced the piece the same way.

Sokolow's 1955 masterpiece examined the psychic isolation and unfulfilled desires of characters isolated in their small, city apartments. The work expresses the loneliness and alienation felt following the breakdown of wartime solidarity when the threat of atomic annihilation, the 1952 polio epidemic, and the Red Scare hung like invisible contagions and created a mood of pervasive uncertainty and dread over America. These emotions are similar to those felt by many during the current COVID-19 pandemic, so it seemed a perfect choice for this semester's performance. Associate artistic director Lauren Naslund of the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble consulted with the K-State performers and video producers to ensure the performance met the guidelines of the original masterpiece.

The performance of "Rooms" was unlike any previous performance by the K-State Dance Program because it was performed in the individual home of each dancer, recorded remotely and edited together by Keener under the direction of Kate Digby, assistant professor and associate director of dance in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, and Tom Hallaq, associate professor and associate director of undergraduate studies in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The responsibility of actual video recording was taken on by the dancers themselves to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. Performers had to rethink, restage, light, film and costume themselves with what they had access to where they are living in isolation. Dancers featured in the work are Grace Harms, Cassie Meyer, Danielle Mitchell, Sarah Mullin, Cully Simpson, Hope Wedel and Winniebell Zong.

Keener was invited to participate in a panel discussion/Q&A among the filmmakers, who range from students to professionals, about their creative solutions to the challenges of creating a dance film or producing a virtual performance in current circumstances. However, due to a scheduling conflict, she was unable to present live. She recorded a short video for her presentation in place of her live participation in the panel.

A compilation of the various performances, including Keener's video, will be submitted to the Library of Congress. Keener's production is available on YouTube and her video presentation is available on Vimeo.

For additional information about the K-State performance of "Rooms" or Keener's video, please contact Digby at kdigby@k-state.edu or 785 532-1126. 

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