In virtual concert, Fresno State’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble finds togetherness in separation

Kenneth Balint, artistic director of Fresno State’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble, knew that the company’s 10th anniversary concert was going to look different this year. (We all know why.) Still, he fought long and hard for the ability to at least put his dancers in the same physical space. The result: nine virtual “cubes” in the studio and on the stage of the John Wright Theatre. There are no physical barriers between those cubes, of course, but dancers have to stay in their delineated spaces.

Pictured above and top: rehearsal scenes from the Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert.

There’s still a sense of ensemble and connection, then, in the virtual production of “Directions: One Breath at a Time.” The concert streams online at 7:30 p.m. March 12–13 and March 16–20, and 2 p.m. March 14. Streaming access is $15 for general admission and $10 for students. (Remember that this is “appointment TV,” meaning that the concerts stream at specific days and times and will not be available for viewing once the run is completed.)

The concert includes new works by student choreographers Jessica Lopez Morales and Nick Castro. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this preview story. I interviewed both of them by email, asking the same questions:

Q: What is the title of your work and its significance?

Morales: “Catharsis,” the title of the piece, comes from the literal definition of the word “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” The significance of the title comes from the way I have seen myself this past year and how I have come to deal with those emotions.


Castro: I chose the title “Amateur” solely as a reminder to myself that this piece was a created by an amateur. I have created other dance works during my time here at Fresno State, but I still see myself as a novice in terms choreographing original works.

Q: Describe your piece for me in just three words.

Morales: Grounded, intriguing, peaceful.

Castro: Trance by emotions.

Q: Tell me about it. Is there a narrative line? What style(s) of dance do you incorporate?

Morales: My style choice when it comes to creating a piece has always been dramatic with simple gestures. I also incorporated a bit of modern and contemporary styles to add to the dramatic effect. When it comes to narrative, there really isn’t one that I can pinpoint. I’d rather have people watch and come up with their own interpretation than me saying what I believe is the narrative and everyone go off from that storyline.

Castro: My piece incorporates smaller works I have developed and pays homage to works that were my light in a dark place. It takes inspiration from ballet, modern and Mexican folkloric dance.

Jessica Lopez Morales in a previous Contemporary Dance Ensemble rehearsal.

Q: What is the musical accompaniment?

Morales: The music inspiration comes from a film called “Midsommar.” The music in this film felt very unsettling, which helped set a certain part of the piece. It then goes towards a more calming section that was inspired from a dear friend of mine, Sahar Das.

Castro: My musical choices for my piece range from Electronic to Spanish R&B to Classical to even spoken word poetry. As the piece progresses. the mood makes a shift from a high toward a low mood.

Q: In terms of feelings/emotions, what does this piece mean to you?

Morales: It means freedom from my emotions. Being able to see those feelings on stage helps me to slowly move on and heal.

Nick Castro

Castro: About halfway through the piece, there is a shift towards an inner struggle that I believe many can relate too. One of my greatest strengths is empathy for others; however, there are times where my strength weakens to the point of shattering. I believe my piece gives a glimpse of how I feel when shattered but become comfortable with those emotions by accepting them as they are. There is no shame in being a human being.

Q: How did the Covid-19 restrictions impact your choreography? Would you ever want to rework the choreography for this particular piece after Covid?

Morales: With our current situation I would have expected to have a few obstacles but in reality, it made no difference to my choreography. The only thing that could have elevated my piece more was if they were able to have more physical contact. In the end if we have to go through this Covid-19 style of performing, I am not opposed.

Castro: Yes, I would definitely like to explore potential reworking of this piece; however, I am still proud of what I have created through such interesting times.

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Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

Morales: My last semester is Fall 2021, and I plan to take a year off to focus on my career goal. I have been debating pursuing a master’s in dance and/or becoming an academic counselor for high school students. I spent 6 years dancing and hopefully I can continue to take classes after I graduate.

Castro: I have been dancing for 10 years now, but my primary discipline is in Mexican Folkloric dance. I am the current Student Assistant Director for Fresno State’s premiere folklórico troupe Los Danzantes de Aztlán. I plan to graduate this Spring of 2021 and in the near future I plan to attend graduate school to obtain either my M.A. or M.F.A in Dance.

Q: Why should people watch this CDE concert?

Morales: While it may look different, the energy of the dancers makes the concert feel as if we were all in the audience like a normal CDE concert.

Castro: CDE is proof that even through some of the toughest times in our lives, we can still have the courage to change as much as we can to make the best of what we have in the moment.


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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