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South Valley Journal

Virtual assemblies open up creative possibilities

Feb 03, 2021 10:47AM ● By Jet Burnham

The senior members of Riverton Dance Company are making the most of this unusual year. (Photo courtesy of Brynn Perkins)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Instead of packing 2,200 students into the auditorium, student assemblies at Riverton High School are being held virtually this year. Students watch a pre-recorded performance or a livestream presentation in separate classrooms.

SBO President Dallin Carter said student leaders strive to convey the same feeling of energy and unity as in-person assemblies through the virtual format.

“We're hoping we'll be together in spirit and together at heart as we watch it all together and experience the same things, just in different places,” he said about the annual Silver Rush fundraising assembly.

Principal Carolyn Gough said there are pros and cons to virtual assemblies. 

“It's a lot more stressful to livestream than pre-record, but we're trying to allow for both when it makes sense to do it,” Gough said. “At least with a pre-recording, you know that any performing group had the chance to do it well before submitting their final cut. Live streaming can be more energetic, but I'm always worried that if something goes wrong, many students will miss the performance entirely.”

Technology SBO Christopher Dooley tries to film footage for virtual assemblies that are fun for students to watch. 

“One of the difficulties that I faced this year is trying to get that feeling across the medium, trying to get that gut feeling and that emotion through those videos to the student body,” Dooley said.

The SBOs are getting better and more creative with virtual assemblies. For example, instead of calling up the winners of the Student of the Quarter awards onto a stage to be recognized, they now film SBOs surprising the winners in their classrooms.

“It is really cool to see their reaction and capture that on video,” Dooley said.

A benefit to pre-recorded assemblies is that students who participated in the assembly get to watch it along with their classmates.

“They're usually up on stage and just hear applause,” dance company director Brynn Perkins said. “Now they get to hear someone turn to them and say ‘I really liked that you did that.’”

The new format for assemblies has also opened up new possibilities for performance groups to get creative with their routines. The drill team filmed a routine in a hotel elevator. Dance Company filmed their opening assembly performance with lights and a fog machine at Classic Fun Center.

“We were able to take an already incredible dance and add incredible lighting and effects that made the performance that much more enjoyable to watch and experience for the student body,” said Bella DeJesus, dance co vice president.

Gough said that performance was extremely well done and well received by the student body.

“That type of artistic opportunity far exceeded what they could normally have done in person,” she said.

Because performances aren’t limited to the auditorium stage, dancers have used the school building for creative videography such as dancers hip-hopping in the hallways, leaping off library shelves and busting their moves in the boiler room.

“Because we are filming our routines, we can film in multiple different places, change costumes, use props or even fog machines—all of which add to our artistry,” said Maddy Jones, dance co president.

Dance company uses a professional videographer to capture different angles and multiple takes which are edited into a final artistic piece. Perfectionists on the team like that filmed performances allow them to look their absolute best.

“We try multiple times to get that perfect shot,” head dance co captain Sydney Curtis said. “We’re able to achieve it through filming, whereas when we perform live, you have one chance to hit it perfect.” 

Perkins said while the pre-recorded performance can capture a perfect routine, students need opportunities to perform live to learn performance pressure skills—how to perform when you know there is no retake and how to recover from a mistake. The dancers also miss the energy of performing for a live audience.

Dance company’s first opportunity to perform live this year is at the District Dance Performance on Feb. 4, where the audience will be their peers from other participating high school teams. Friends and family will watch on a live stream through KSL.

“We are looking forward to performing for our peers there because we know that the energy will be incredible,” Perkins said. “It will just be uplifting for their souls.”

This untraditional year—when performance plans unraveled in less than 24 hours, when whole teams were quarantined, when dance formations lost dancers to quarantine at the last minute, when Homecoming Week had to be rescheduled and when the school abruptly closed for two weeks—has taught the dancers (and their teacher) two important dance skills: to be flexible and to pivot.

“You pivot every step of the way,” Perkins said. “You find ways to bond, you find ways to connect, and you find ways to share your artistry with audiences.”

The dancers support each other through the challenges and the disappointments.

“As a team, we have learned to take nothing for granted,” Curtis said. “We soak up every performance and filming opportunity because we never know if it could be our last.”

Perkins is impressed that her students have remained positive and grateful.

“COVID has definitely put us back some steps and it's definitely been hard, but if anything, the bond on this team is much stronger than any other team I've ever had,” Perkins said. “We're so grateful to even have a platform to share what we do. And if that means virtually—through video, through social media, through livestream—then we'll take it. Because we are so thankful that we get to do what we love.”