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UTSA students create largest interdisciplinary project to date with COVID-related showcase

Dancers move to the choreography of "The Disturbance".
Jiawen Chen
Texas Public Radio
"The Disturbance"

College students across the country faced unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those at the University of Texas- San Antonio turned their experiences into performance art in a project called "Defining Moments." The college of Liberal and Fine Arts students showcased their stories to an audience of several hundred at the Buena Vista theater last month.

This event was quite a feat for the university, as it is the largest interdisciplinary project to date. The lineup unveiled a broad spectrum of disciplines — including art, architecture, creative writing, music, history and dance to express the hardships and challenges of COVID-19 from the students' experiences.

"(Students) have been able to read each other's experiences and thoughts and be able to create art based on their own perspective, as well as the perspective of their peers. This is a showcase that shows all of the student creations and how those pieces have built onto each other," explained Jodi Peterson, assistant professor of history and organizer of the event.

The showcase began with the context of how COVID-19 affected what the students faced amidst the pandemic. After switching exclusively to online-learning, students lacked the in-person contact and connection in interacting with peers and professors in classrooms. One after another, students conveyed shared themes of isolation, separation and eventually recovery and hope throughout their performances.

Below are some highlights from "Defining Moments."

Inspired by Moises Hernandez and Robert Cano's poem "The Burning," third-year composition major Micah Rosenstein created a solo violin and solo cello piece with the same name.

"There was a bunch of feelings of isolation that I got from the poem and a lot of like naïve frustration just for humanity and how humanity has kind of been sort of just fickle with their mindset. And I really saw that shine through with Robert and Maurice's writings, and that really inspired me to reflect that in my music. And I'm really fortunate to to have that opportunity," remarked Rosenstein.

Provocative and eye-opening, senior student and film maker Monae Sims shot "The Disturbance (within my thoughts)" — a visual representation from her perspective, of navigating and considering the inopportune times of the pandemic. Her piece was influenced and derived from fellow contributing students' and architectural designs.

"I really enjoy doing dramatized realizations of stories, I really like storytelling. It's one of my favorite things to do.

I hope that they understand that it's OK to be honest to public about how you're feeling," said Sims.

Levi Ingraham, third-year composition major, incorporated "The Burning" poem as the basis for his titled piece, "Mending" with the instrumentation of string quartet with three flutes and two horns to accompany an elaborative and reflective dance.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

"The strings are meant to illustrate the open and endless sea that's described in this poem as sort of the end of the world, with the horns being the fire and the passion that just breaks through it all," said Ingraham.

The "Mending" was choreographed by the UTSA dance department.

"The Disturbance" — originally a poem by Daniella Flores and Ezra Garza, set the tone for the stage of this dance piece. The nine dance students of Ballet III class worked on this choreography this semester, with innovative music written by composing music student Hannah Bradley.

"There are certain parts where we stay inside of a box and face different corners and do the same movements to represent the repetition of COVID and being stuck inside and what that was like during quarantine. There's also a lot of hands in front of the face to represent the mask, and we're wearing a mask and we dance...at the very end, we take it off, and that's supposed to kind of represent the diffusion back into a regular society," said Brandi Huestis, one of the dancers.

Alexandra Jauregui
The spiraling wooden display located at Buena Vista Theater for the event.

Under the direction of Professor John Bagarozy, students of the architecture department took three weeks to design and craft a wooden display piece from scratch. This installation is for other students to show their artworks and attendees to view.

"I would say the design was very much influenced by the quarantine itself. If you see it, it's very swirly, and flows. And I would like to say that that aspect of the design has to do with confusion; there's no linear path. And so that's helpful to represent that, as well as the overwhelming nature of a pandemic which has displayed through the tall, increasing walls as it went," revealed architecture student Jorge Gonzalez.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.