Lifestyle

Jackson’s rises to the challenge

  • In unison: dancers practise for Jackson’s School of Performing Arts virtual show, that takes place on Zoom on August 7 and 8

Brittany Adams was preparing her dancers for a show in June when Covid-19 struck.

Disappointed, she waded through her options and decided to make Jackson’s School of Performing Arts’ summer recital a virtual one.

One hundred dancers will showcase their skills on Zoom next weekend in Impact, a production that’s the first of its kind for the Hamilton company.

“It all started when our doors got shut in mid-March because of the pandemic,” said Ms Adams, the school’s director. “We were trying to be innovative and creative as far as what we could do to still bring dance — and some normalcy — into children’s lives, so we called the parents and got some feedback from them.”

With homeschooling in place and many students “doing a whole lot of online things” the hope was they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by having one more.

“The overwhelming response was that the children and parents still wanted to continue dance classes,” Ms Adams said. “So it became: how were we gonna make that happen?

“Our teachers rose to the challenge of offering virtual classes via Zoom right away.

“For those families that were unable to attend live Zoom classes, we also uploaded pre-recorded classes to our YouTube channel.”

It also gave students the opportunity to review material or take the class again.

The successful effort gave Jackson’s hope of still having a show at City Hall, but by June it was clearly impossible. The government-mandated gathering limit was then at 20; Earl Cameron Theatre would have been far too expensive to rent for such a small number.

“We decided we weren’t going to give up,” said Ms Adams, who felt it was important to “honour the children and the teachers and all of their hard work”.

She hired a production company in Baltimore, Maryland, to put the footage together and got government confirmation that students would be allowed back in the studio, once the island had entered Phase 3.

“So we had a green screen and a blue screen shipped to Bermuda and we had them installed in our studios,” said Ms Adams, who previously had “absolute zero” experience with the visual effects technique of layering two images or video streams together.

“We kind of envisioned that it would be this big screen with a structure and we were terrified by all the costs.

“It ended up being craft paper — 200 feet of paper that we rolled out and kind of taped up to our walls.”

To the students she presented it as Hollywood versus Broadway, using iPhone 11 Pros, tripods and stereo equipment to share the show via Zoom instead of a stage, bright lights and a live audience.

“We filmed the students dancing in front of [the screens] ... and have chosen virtual backgrounds for each dance that will be edited in.

“The company’s presently putting it together, editing all of our dancers together, for a full feature film so to speak.

“We had zero previous knowledge with it but we adapted and we figured it out.

“The children were just fascinated by the whole thing. We’re really excited about it. We told them that we get to do it a couple times.

“If it’s not good, we can delete it; we can take it a few times from different angles, get your best footage. They thought that was kind of cool.

“Especially with the children being a little under-rehearsed having done most of their final term online, it was very comforting for them to know if they made a mistake it was OK, there’s more chances.”

Ms Adams added: “It’s not like you’ve got one chance and that’s it.”

She and Jackson’s assistant director Alexis Richens decided last September that the recital would draw attention to some of the environmental issues which were then in the news.

They later broadened the scope to include social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Pride and “equality in general”.

“The year 2020 has been warped from a pandemic and has brought to the spotlight many of our environmental and social flaws,” Ms Adams said. “In order to have healthy communities for future generations, we need clean air, natural resources and a non-toxic environment while balancing our economic and social needs.

“Our dances this year showcase the various challenges the Earth is facing along with the sustainable efforts that are being developed and implemented.”

• Impact, Jackson’s School of Performing Arts summer recital, will stream on Zoom August 7 and 8. Tickets to the watch party are available at jackson.bdatix.bm