After 2 years dancing in the garage and on Zoom, Fresno State’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble is ready for a live, eager audience

It’s been a long two years since Fresno State has been able to hold an in-person dance concert with a live audience. Talk about a long, dry spell. But the situation changes on Friday, Feb. 18, when a nine-performance run of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s annual concert, titled “Not What It Seems,” opens at the John Wright Theatre. Performances continue through Saturday, Feb. 26.

Pictured above: Fresno State’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CDE) opens a new show on Friday, Feb. 18. Photo: James Ramirez / Fresno State

The College of Arts and Humanities blog offers a detailed overall preview.

Kenneth Balint is the artistic director of CDE. He suggested I talk to two of his graduating seniors with a lot to say: Siena Simas and Jessica Lopez Morales.

Here’s our joint email interview:

DONALD: What does the title of the show mean to you?


SIENA: Sometimes we put judgment on things before we actually get to know what it is. We tend to create a narrative in our heads which can hold us back from experiencing new things. Regardless of the experience, things may not always be what they seem.

JESSICA: Personally, the title at first seemed a bit out of place. But the more I think about it and the more I see myself dancing in this performance, I realize it truly is not what it seems. I feel I am a part of a new world in every dance piece. I no longer am myself but I am in this new body that is discovering and connecting with others as we move together.

DONALD: How did the Covid pandemic impact you as a dancer? Do you feel like you “lost time” in your dance training?

SIENA: I feel what I lost most was the community of dancing and my peers in the dance world. I created a mini studio in my garage so that I could continue my training. Without the in-person element I found it harder to hold myself accountable. It is motivating and empowering to be able to dance with other like minded individuals in a community that I love once again.

JESSICA: The impact of the pandemic is hard to answer. I feel that as a dancer I did not want to take classes over Zoom and I saw myself feeling unmotivated to dance through a computer screen. Getting to take technique classes again is sometimes a difficult thing for me to do. I feel that I am no longer at the place I was in my dancing career before the pandemic took over.

DONALD: I know the audience will be masked. Are there any limitations for the dancers? (social distancing, no touching, etc.)

SIENA: We are required to wear masks while we are performing, which makes it tough to breathe while we’re dancing. I do feel that it has made an impact on my endurance and stamina, and takes away from the personal connection between the audience and performers.

JESSICA: Before we started to learn new choreography for this performance, Kenneth Balint had asked us to email him or let him know about our opinions in regards to touching, partnering work and so forth. We all unanimously agreed we were OK with wearing masks and being able to physically connect as dancers again. Dancing inside a square on stage is no fun!

DONALD: Siena, you choreographed a piece. Tell me about it. What inspired you? What kind of music do you use? What do you hope people take away from it?

SIENA: Ultimately my inspiration stems from the overall process of creating the piece. I spent far too much time overthinking the choreography that I decided to create a dance representing my inability to calm my mind and make a decision as to where I wanted to take this work. My piece is named after the Tetris Effect Syndrome which is characterized by an obsession over an activity to the point that it consumes one’s thoughts, feelings, and dreams. I realized that the prospect of creating made me develop a daily obsession with the process, consuming my thoughts nearly always throughout the day. My hope is that the audience interprets their own story from my piece, and that it resonates with them.

DONALD: Jessica, do you have any favorites?

JESSICA: “We Rise,” set by Anandha Ray, is one of my favorite pieces in the show so far. This piece is a challenge in the sense that I have to be grounded and open to new movement. It’s not a piece that you can easily mark. it requires a lot of emotion to be brought on stage.

DONALD: What are your artistic/career goals?

SIENA: I would love to join a dance company or start my own to continue my training after graduating. I plan to attend grad school in pursuit of my master’s degree in dance and choreography. At the end of the day my desire is to share my love for the art of dance with others.

JESSICA: I don’t think I see myself dancing on stage anymore, I love to perform but choreographing is so much more fun, at least for me. I hope to choreograph even more after I graduate from Fresno State. You never know, I might apply for a master’s degree in dance!

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DONALD: Give your best pitch: Let’s say I’m a person who has never been to a dance concert. Why should I come to CDE?

JESSICA: It’s such an interesting experience. If you come and watch the show with an open mind you’ll leave with questions and you’ll want to go again because you just want to understand what everyone is seeing. Even if you’ve never seen a dance concert before, you’ll see us dance and you’ll say, “Hey I like that movement, it looks so cool!”

DONALD: Anything else you’d like to say?

SIENA: I am honored to have had this opportunity to choreograph for CDE, and it was a privilege to teach my incredibly talented and dedicated peers. Enjoy the show!

JESSICA: Please come and watch, the last time we performed in person was Feb. 2020 and by March 2020 everything was shut down. We miss performing for an audience!


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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