The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Performing Arts Center has a longstanding tradition called Great Leaps, a biannual production that features dance students from both the university and Hawaiʻi Community College. The show provides students with the opportunity to showcase their artistic talents as well as technical progress within various dance styles including ballet, jazz, modern and aerial.

This year, the production took on a new look with Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 being delivered to audience members in a virtual space the weekend of December 4–6. This online debut was the result of coronavirus restrictions that paused meeting in person both for regular classes and the end-of-semester performance. Dancers and choreographers were challenged in new ways, making the end result a revolutionary experience.

ballet dancer by water
Megan Kimata performs in “A Hilo Au” at Hilo Bay

“Having a virtual Great Leaps performance was so important to me to keep our connection to the dance community within UH Hilo and to our greater community outside of the university,” said Kea Kapahua, head of the dance department and one of the leading contributors to the virtual showcase. “Dance, music and storytelling exist in every culture and we need to keep dancing, making melodies and telling our stories even if the platform of delivery changes.”

The beauty of the biannual dance performance taking place in a virtual format this year is that it actually expanded possibilities for human connection. Those who registered to watch the show were provided a link to an unlisted video on YouTube. This link could be used from anywhere on the island or in the country. Once there, viewers could watch the show as many times as they wanted during the weekend that the video was up. Supporters were able to view the show at their own pace, in the comfort of their own homes.

Student performances and reflection

Students performed beautiful ballets “A Hilo Au” and “Ahe Lau Makani” at various outdoor Hawaiʻi locations.

UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi CC dance instructor Annie Bunker included video projects of her classes from last spring and this past semester, giving students who didn’t get a chance to perform last spring the opportunity to have their hard work shown. Her spring students did an aerial performance while her fall students showcased the modern dance style as well as an environmental site-specific dance.

Students danced to Andra Day’s “Rise Up” in a teary-eyed jazz performance that resembled themes of home, hope and resilience.

The Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 show also featured a new section for students to speak on their experiences taking dance classes online. This is not usually included in ordinary performances as students are expected to express themselves purely through movement; however, this part of the show went a long way to prove how determined and hard-working these students have become. Jordan Ancheta, a UH Hilo dance student, described the process of practicing and filming for Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 during the COVID-19 era in his documentary-style video.

Read more on Virtual Leaps Fall 2020 at UH Hilo Stories.

—By Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, a UH Hilo English student

ballet dancers
Ballet dancers perform “Ahe Lau Makani” at Kalakaua Park