The Dancers of Counting Blessings

Rachel Levitt chats with three of the dancers who star in Counting Blessings, a new dance film for Grey Area Collective's Art in Isolation to be released Oct 30.


What was unique about the rehearsal process and filming of Counting Blessings?

Jill Amantea– Filming outside and dancing freely was really nice, because that isn’t as common right now since we don’t have studio space. You also don’t have to worry about dodging furniture or fixing your lighting or anything like that.


Nicole Decsey – The unique part was filming and having both Jordan [McEwen, director] and Rachel [Levitt, choreographer] there, watching me film and giving me corrections, letting me know let’s do it again, let’s change the lighting here. Because most of the other times when I’ve filmed, I’ve done it on my own. And it was really nice to get that feedback right away, instead of just being like ‘okay hope this is good!’




Jessica Vilneff – If I were to summarize I would call this rehearsal process experimental and innovative. During the choreographic process, Rachel Levitt displayed an eye for detail. She sources inspiration from each movement, giving reason and meaning to the actions that she creates.


When it came to the logistics, I had a plan that I would learn the choreography outside under the sunshine, but rain ruined that. I ended up working with Rachel in my tiny bedroom, learning choreography from a small screen. Finally, the rain stopped, and I went outside. The problem with my front yard is that I quickly learned the ground is not flat. I felt like a pile of Jenga trying to do...well anything.


Our fantastic director, Jordan McEwen, scouted out the best sunlight, and he recommended 5:45am. I can’t say I’ve ever danced at 5:45 am but the morning of, I was excited and ready to go. There is a perfect sunrise at that time of day, who knew!


What did you like and dislike about the creative process in quarantine?


Jill – It’s harder to learn choreography via Zoom. Mirroring and making sure you turn the right way and all that stuff, but it’s nice to be able to review recordings and practice on your own. Definitely working in your home and not having all of the space you want is a challenge.


Nicole – One of the really amazing things about creating in quarantine, has been…it’s a very different interaction. In the studio, I can be right beside the choreographer and copying them exactly and getting their movement exactly as they’re doing it. And when it’s through this digital platform, I don’t always catch everything. So sometimes my movement is slightly different from what the choreographer has asked and it causes a chain reaction of “oh that’s cool, oh let’s do this, oh let’s do that.” That has been really interesting. In some ways, I felt a little bit more freedom with how I can take someone’s choreography which has been nice. The thing I miss the most though is the group work and the energy sharing.


Jessica – Dance is usually the one subject area where you don’t need technology. No need to look at a screen, or type or navigate computer systems. I don’t hate technology, but it was one of the absolutes in my life where I was completely disconnected from the virtual world and felt so present. However, quarantine has also given me a greater appreciation for dance. I feel as though sometimes I tune out from the fact that I’m in a space, with other moving bodies and I don’t appreciate it enough.


How do you feel about the finished product?


Jill – I think it’s very relevant, there’s a lot of wishing you could be outside or be with your friends and being kind of stuck in place, and also being grateful for a place to be, which really rings true with me. I’m at home with my family right now in BC, so I’m very grateful to have a place to go to, not everyone has that, and also the ability to be outside and enjoy life at a distance from everyone else.


Nicole – It’s really nice to see both this really great editing with this music and all the different layers that were added to it, because I was obviously just this one person and one little aspect of it. So, to see all the different layers of the dancers and the editing and the sound was really powerful after being in the rehearsal process.



Jessica – Although to me this piece does represent struggle, I feel as though the true meaning is more positive. It’s more so wishing for harmony within the world. Sometimes the movement itself is asymmetrical, bold, and slashed through space, which can represent difficult times. As the work progresses, there becomes an aspect of floating in which I see the hopefulness that’s leftover. The settings were also striking because they were quite an alternative to what one would expect. Rooms with furniture would usually pose challenges when dancing, but were so beautifully made a necessity to the piece.


An overall feeling I had was that each of the dancers were living parallel lives. They were living shared experiences, going through the same motions/movements, without knowing it. Solidifying the illusion that we like to think of ourselves as the main character, even though we play more of a side character in other’s lives.




What other creative quarantine projects were these dancers involved in?


Nicole danced in two videos for Dance : Corps, including Dancing in a Time of Quarantine for Convergence Theatre’s The Covid Commissions and “Normal People” which premiered at Our Stories ­– Flash Show and is booked to perform at the Window of Opportunity Festival in 2021. She was also in Seeking Everyday Magicians with Ismailova Theatre of Dance, which was rehearsed and performed entirely on Zoom.


Jill danced in Dance : Corps’ first quarantine project Safe and Sound, and was in a full length version of Heathers: The Musical. She says it was a challenge and a lot of work, but a lot of fun. All of it was filmed separately by the cast, including vocal tracks being pre-recorded, and then edited together.


Jessica decided to take a break from dance this quarantine season. She has been enjoying time at her grandmother’s farm, Pilates and taking her dog for runs.

BONUS DANCE LIFESTYLE Q&A!


JILL AMANTEA


Favourite before dance snack? Apple and almonds


Favourite after dance snack? Protein shake


Favourite dance outfit?

High waist leggings and a cute sports bra


Favourite non-dance fitness?

Yoga or high intensity intervals


Favourite non-dance hobby? Netflix, baking and cooking.



NICOLE DECSEY


Favourite before dance snack? Premium plus crackers


Favourite after dance snack? Blueberry muffin


Favourite dance outfit?

High waist pants that are tight on top and then flow out, and a baggy top tucked in.


Favourite non-dance fitness?

Yoga and kick boxing


Favourite non-dance hobby? Reading


JESSICA VILNEFF


Favourite before dance snack? Smoothie


Favourite after dance snack? Granola with dark chocolate and fruit


Favourite dance outfit?

A bodysuit and loose capris


Favourite non-dance fitness?

Skiing, skating and dragon boating.


Favourite non-dance hobby? Learning about law and politics

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