While trying to find positives during this time that COVID-19 continues to ravage our country is difficult while so many people around the world are dying. One such hint of positivity is how artists around the globe are inspired to venture into unfamiliar territories, learn new skills to create ways of bringing joy to the rest of us via ZOOM, Instagram and Facebook livestream. On April 25th, or the 26th if you were in other world time zones, Kybele Dance Theater used ZOOM to present the extremely well made and moving live performances of Isolated Connections choreographed by Seda Aybay, Founder and Artistic Director of Kybele Dance Theater (KDT).

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Aybay founded KDT in 2003 and created a repertoire of very kinetic, energetic, technically demanding and often dramatic works seen almost entirely on stages. Described as a site-specific work with global connections, during a Q&A following Saturday’s performance of Isolated Connections, Aybay admitted that this was her first time creating a site-specific work. The sites chosen for Isolated Connections were the living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens of the performers who live in the Los Angeles area except for guest artist and former company member, Stephanie McMahon who now resides in New York.

Several members of KDT were born abroad. Aybay in Turkey, Karlo Ramirez in Mexico, Marii Kawabata in Japan, and Nick Albuja in Ecuador, and they still have friends and family living in those countries. Aybay said that it had been many years since her family had seen her perform live, and since she was creating a work to be performed online, she would make it possible for them and others around the world to enjoy it.

 "Isolated Connections" - Caitlin Heflin in her kitchen - Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

“Isolated Connections” – Caitlin Heflin in her kitchen – Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

Anyone who has put together or participated in a ZOOM webinar understands how difficult it is to synchronize the visuals with the audibles, and how it is subject to possible internet interruptions or malfunctions. Isolated Connections was broadcast simultaneously in multiple cities around the world for three separate live performances. There were three performances seen in Canada, Turkey, Israel, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Palau, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, China, Australia, England, Ireland, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, Seychelles, India, Sri Lanka and of course the U.S. One can only imagine the coordination it took Aybay and her Technical Director Mark Baker to coordinate one, much less three performances in one day to appear come together in nine different time zones.

Following a prepared slideshow of the biographies of the cast of Isolated Connections, Lori deFelice, Executive Director of KDT, and Aybay provided a brief explanation of how the performance and Q&A that followed would proceed and instructions on which ZOOM setting (gallery) provided the best viewing of the work. The gallery view lets you see a separate window of each participant, in a grid pattern, which expands and contracts as participants join and leave the meeting. In this case there were eight performers appearing in their own separate window. Aybay’s job as a choreographer was to create the movement and develop the timing for when each dancer to turn their camera on and off. She could not control the configuration of the windows as each computer read them differently, but she could control the dancers performing in solo, duets, or trios, etc.

"Isolated Connections" - Seda Aybay dancing in doorway - Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

“Isolated Connections” – Seda Aybay dancing in doorway – Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

The work investigated all the feelings and emotions that the majority of us are experiencing during this shelter-in-place period that has lasted for weeks now. Aybay’s solos expressed the loneliness we feel, the longing for physical contact with friends, colleagues, family and romantic partners who live separately. The dancers utilized every possible room within their apartment or home as a performance area, including when Marii Kawabata danced in the very confined triangular shaped area of what appeared to be her attic or closet.

A mirror became a common device for a romantic duet between two dancers. Their gestural attempts at reaching past the barrier or placing their hands against the glassy surface at the same moment was indeed tender and moving. Robert Gomez’s solo expressed what many people are going through of peering out a window longing to see a familiar person approaching their home for a visit. Dancers had physical struggles with furniture and especially doors leading to the outside that expressed everyone’s frustrations with the feelings of boredom, isolation and confinement.

One touching section involved each dancer holding a lit candle. It opened and ended with Kennedy Blue looking at a table top lined with photos of friends and family, but, for me, it also acted as a tribute to those who have lost their lives to this deadly virus.  The work ended with each dancer expressing their love and well wishes to us all with virtual hugs and blown kisses.

Beyond my thoughts about how wonderful Isolated Connections was as an online dance work, I was impressed to learn during the Q&A that it was only three weeks from the time Aybay conceived of this work and when it was broadcast live around the world. One of my questions for Aybay was whether or not she planned on expanding this work in the future. Here is her response.

"Isolated Connections" - Stephanie McMahon in her bedroom - Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

“Isolated Connections” – Stephanie McMahon in her bedroom – Photo courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater

“When I stared this project due to many unknowns about health, life and everything else in everyone’s lives, I wanted to do it as a quick, short, fun project. But I realized it can become something much bigger and amazing from the perspective of global connectivity. As for going back to your question, maybe ask me in a couple of weeks.”

The beautiful cast of Isolated Connections included Caitlin Heflin, Robert Gomez, Marii Kawabata, Nick Albuja, Karlo Ramirez, Kennedy Blue, Stephanie McMahon and Seda Aybay. Mark Baker was the Technical Director. Congratulations to all!

Written by Jeff Slayton for LADC, April 28, 2020.

To visit the Kybele Dance Theater website, click here.

Featured image: Compiled screen shots from Isolated Connections courtesy of Kybele Dance Theater.