As we are pretty much at the one year mark for which the world was turned upside down, I got to wondering how artistic leadership and dancers of professional ballet companies around the world would reflect upon the months past and their thoughts about the ones to come.
Thus the following questions came to mind:
How have the events of the past year influenced how directors, teachers, choreographers, and dancers approach their jobs?
Although we all wish we had an eight ball, we know the future is unforeseeable. That being said, relative to the ballet industry, what predictions can we make for 2021?
Without really knowing how receptive people would be to opening up, I decided to contact those I know personally in the professional ballet field as well as others who could help me extend the reach even further to see if I could gather some answers to my questions.
So what did I learn?
First and foremost, that it is so important for artists to project their voices so that the world knows and feels how the salvation of ballet is not just about saving an integral part of our culture, but preserving the passions that create the energy we feel when at the theatre.
Also, that the professional ballet community is resilient and stronger than ever with a renewed, overriding sense of gratitude for the professions they have, patience with themselves as they adjust and learn, and reflection about the gifts they have been blessed with to give. Many view this moment in time as perhaps a renaissance for ballet, an opportunity to innovate, refresh, or evolve from some of the more traditional ways.
And last but not least, that although I have known this for a long time due to the decades I have spent as a ballet student, professional dancer, educator, studio director, and now editor of a platform specialized in the art, these opinions confirm that creators are a special breed – one that thrives on diversity, discipline, determination, and dedication to the process and final product.
And now without further ado, I present to you the voices of dozens of artists that represent the world of ballet that we love so much. They are
Ballet Masters that serve as the bridge between choreographers and dancers;
Choreographers associated with companies as well as freelancers;
Dancers at varying stages of their careers;
Educators at ballet schools and universities;
Entrepreneurs who have used their passion and expertise in ballet to venture into their own business;
Executive Directors responsible for steering their companies in a positive direction;
Musical Directors for orchestras dedicated to ballet companies.
To borrow from the title of Miranda July’s 2005 film, they are Me and You and Everyone We Know.
Enjoy, listen, and support the professional ballet community.
Christopher Anderson (Alberta Ballet)
The past year has certainly allowed me to work on patience! At times I find it difficult to accept that some things are simply out of my control, but I am working on trying to shift that energy and attention to the things that are. This shift of attention has helped me develop a practice of reflection and grounded my actions in thoughtfulness and intention. It has also reinforced the incredible responsibility that accompanies role of Artistic Director, responsibility that reaches beyond the studio or stage.
From a practical standpoint, I think we will see a return to the theatre with full productions. I also think we will continue to see a digital option for experiencing performance. The interest and appetite for digital dance has been remarkable, and I am a strong believer in the merits of creating and sustaining a digital presence.
I’m also hopeful that our art form will see more diversity and inclusion. The events of 2020 have elevated important conversations about race, and we, as an industry, need to be leaders and create space for those conversations. Ballet traditions have long been part of the status quo, and our return to the stage must be inspired by new and more inclusive approaches.
Starting with the planning of our seasons, which usually takes place at least two years in advance; now, if we are lucky we have two weeks to plan for the next program. And then working in pods, casting based on who lives with who, choreographers having to create works remotely because of travel restrictions and our preference of not having anybody who is not a full time employee in the building.
And those are just the superficial changes, I believe the real change is yet to come. This pandemic has altered our habits, and perception of the value, of our entertainment habits. That goes from our comfort level in being shoulder to shoulder with another individual in a crowded theater, to our dining out habits and even riding to the theater with friends. While we are all hopeful that once everybody is vaccinated life will get back to normal, reality is that fear for our health, and a somewhat changed entertainment taste, will profoundly change our path forward.
One of the challenges we will all face is due to the age of our audiences ranging from mature to very mature. How will they feel about the risk/reward equation of going to a live performance? We depend on family shows to keep everybody employed, shows like Cinderella, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Will those pieces ever pack the houses again?
As for next season, it will be purgatory. We will all do a lot of work to incentivize audiences back to the theaters, to make their experience both safe and satisfactory, we will entertain them like never before, and we will inspire them like there was no tomorrow. And then, we’ll see where the dust settles. There is no playbook for the next chapter in the live entertainment arena, we will be writing it. May Terpsichore help all of us!
At the end of the day, this pandemic will reshape the performing arts. I am thrilled to be where I am now, as I can be a part of reshaping the future of the art form, but make no mistakes: I am losing lots of sleep over it!
The past year has been both a challenge and a chance to reconnect with why I love to dance. The time spent in quarantine made me all the more grateful for the opportunities to work with and perform alongside other dancers. Creating and storytelling are a necessity to me and without access to dance, I had time to explore other creative outlets such as writing and painting. When I was able to return to the studios and begin rehearsing again, I had a better understanding of myself as an artist and a greater appreciation for how special and unique being able to share my love of dance with an audience is.
This past year has been one of collaboration and problem solving, and I think the importance of the arts in people’s lives has taken the spotlight. I believe it is well within our power to innovate and find solutions to the problems that we face with the virus and the endeavors of a live art form like dance. The desire for art and
inspiration and the love and support I have seen through these difficult times has been unfaltering, and has given me a bright outlook on the upcoming year.
More than anything else, the events of this year have taught me to be grateful for every moment – each and every performance, company class, and rehearsal; the ups and the downs. I truly had never imagined how easily it could all be taken away. After months of lockdown, dancing on carpets or 5’x6′ pieces of Marley, and building my own daily schedule of Zoom classes, I will never again complain about a slippery floor or a long day of work!
If we look to history, in the most difficult of times, people have turned to the arts. They allow for expression, examination, and growth, which is healing for humanity. Although this year’s events are unforeseeable, I believe that the ballet industry will continue to adapt and pivot. Companies will find ways to continue creating and sharing their art with audiences whether it’s virtual, or masked and socially-distanced.
Here at Cincinnati Ballet, we have been lucky enough to return to the studios – masked, distanced, and in pods. Our season has been a combination of socially-distanced live performances in COVID-friendly venues and filmed virtual programs, depending on the case numbers in our county. I know that the ballet industry will continue to push forward and adjust to whatever the universe may bring our way in 2021. Although it is certainly a test in patience, we will return to the stage on the other side of this, stronger than ever.
Because of the uncertainty and daily doom and gloom I’ve tried to make my classes more personable by getting to know my dancers/students more instead of driving just technique. I’ve taken a back seat to being too pushy and a front seat to connecting and communicating. I challenge myself daily to find balance between discipline, empathy and fun! We all need more fun in our lives, including our young.
I feel as though ballet is changing, as it should. Everything must evolve. However, I am not on board with the latest fad that’s going around trying to push ballet aside. Of course ballet brings up a lot of emotions in people that feel like it’s a white only thing. I truly look at it as a finishing and a refining technique. There is no other technique that’s going to give you the finish line like ballet will. I think it’s wise to incorporate different influences of modern, contemporary or Gaga within the ballet class. But I think if you want to do any style that requires a line then you need to keep ballet in your tool kit.
I also feel as though gender in ballet is being challenged. More guys are dancing on pointe and more girls are engaging in weight lifting. You see more girl on girl or boy on boy partnering. I think for sure we will see more fusion and changes in that regard.
But I’m team #keepballetalive! Let’s come together, not divide!
At first, I felt lost and scared. To stop in the middle of a season, not knowing when or if we’d return, was terrifying. That being said, it recalibrated my appreciation for the art form. Ballet means so much to the dancers and the community, so to go without the ability to perform was very challenging. I feel so fortunate to be part of a company that understands how passionate we are. Upon returning to the studios, I’ve been working every day with gratitude.
I believe 2021 will bring a different approach to dance. During the pandemic, there’s been a huge shift in utilizing technology to share dance with the world. Though classical ballet is typically known for retelling the stories of yesterday, I’d like to imagine how the global crisis can reshape ballet to shine in the modern world. In the absence of our old normal, maybe artists will find new ways to push the boundaries.
This year’s past events have given me a whole new outlook towards my job. At the beginning of the pandemic I was taking class in my apartment with my 6’x4′ Marley in my living room. It challenged my mental strength in looking at this as a chance to work on refining my technique. I now find every chance I get to go into the studio as a precious opportunity, and I am grateful for having it.
My predictions for 2021 within the ballet industry are maintaining optimism. At the Joffrey Ballet we are all very hopeful for the future, and I know we will come out of this stronger than ever.
The intense change of pace that the pandemic has had on our industry has taught me to be more patient. What we do has been deemed non-essential in some cases. But I believe that art and culture will be at the very root of what brings hope, light, and comfort into people’s lives as we return to a newer normal.
I have also learned to be more patient and kind to myself, as well as not take anything for granted. A dancer’s job is very strenuous on the body. So after taking time away, it’s more important now than ever to enjoy the chance to return to dancing again, but also remember that I can’t expect my body – my instrument – to respond or perform in the same way or as quickly as I want it to.
My passion for the art of dance has grown immensely during this time when it is natural to miss my job so much. I continue to have hope and remain patient that art will return to the stages all over the world and that people will enjoy themselves as they gather in theaters to experience live performances once again.
I hope that the ballet industry will work to be more accessible to all kinds of audiences, both in and out of theaters. We just went through a time when we were stripped of our relevance. It took the most creative minds in the industry to shift and pivot and supply supporters with the joy and intrigue of this art form. I hope that sparks a new vision for a lot of dance makers, producers, and professional companies.
Dance, ballet particularly, needs to evolve to stay alive and flourish. Since we were just forced to challenge our purpose, I hope that momentum doesn’t stop and that dance can be something that continues to acknowledge the old traditions, but more importantly cultivates a continued respect and hunger for new ideas.
I love this question! I would say I’ve made a complete turn around with how I approach my work as a First Soloist with Ballet West and as the Director of artÉmotion Ballet School.
First off, like many, our first concern was making a living. As soon as quarantine hit, we adapted with artÉmotion. We immediately started the free “Social Distancing STANpaign” and had one hour free classes on Instagram. We asked dancers and artists from around the world to share their expertise. This opened up the opportunity to begin weekly open classes to people who wanted a more one on one experience.
Last March, we were just artÉmotion. We had, in total, been operating just six weeks a year by presenting Summer Intensive opportunities for students and adults. Now, we consider ourselves artÉmotion Ballet School. We have 10 Virtual Open Classes a week, teach virtual and in-person private lessons, and give and host monthly master classes. Unlike many, I feel our business grew in a positive way. My husband, Rex Tilton, Principal with Ballet West, and my brother Jordan DeBona help with planning and administration.
As far as a dancer, teaching so much has made me rethink my technique. And after a baby, I thought my body would never be able to do what it used to. I’ve never taken this much barre in my life! But, wow! Has it helped! It is the foundation of our technique and I feel somehow, I’ve gained strength. Stamina feels weak but I know it will bounce back when we get back in the studios full time.
I also used to be a gym rat. But, since my son Ajax was born in 2018, I haven’t made time for myself. Now, I actively plan to work on my body, eat healthy, and take vitamins. My brother, who is getting certified in ACE, is training me three times a week, too!
I think it will be the most honest year for ballet yet! In fact, the performing arts. Many people have taken a good look at themselves. Many have retired and decided after this past year, they have new passions, it’s wonderful. The people who are still training and waiting to get back, REALLY want to get back. That means positive environments. I think this time has also made people feel it’s ok to be vulnerable. I think very interesting art will be made!
First Soloist Dancer, Ballet West + Owner/Artistic Director, artÉmotion Ballet School
Sarah Diniz (Ballet Arizona)
Although I have always been grateful to have the opportunity to dance, the events of the past year have made me realize just how fortunate I am to have a place to dance and feel passionate for the work I do. Many dancers around the world are still taking ballet class in their living rooms, so to have the opportunity to be in the Ballet Arizona studios everyday helps me approach each day with a fresh energy – no matter how tired I am feeling from the previous day’s work. I feel so fortunate and I want to take as much advantage as I can of the freedom to dance in a large space.
For 2021, I predict that the ballet industry will continue to find ways to expand digitally and safely. We have already seen companies from around the world sharing ballets online; hopefully more companies can stream performances to audience members in their homes. Maybe as the weather gets warmer, ballet companies will be able to participate in outdoor (socially distanced) performances as well! Personally, I think it would be interesting to see an outdoor Giselle in the desert!
What a psychological roller coaster 2020 has been. In France our first March confinement was very strict. So I was completely alone for almost two months in my tiny French apartment. We were about to perform Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante and I was lucky to be doing the main couple. I never got to do it and it was more than frustrating. So I went through a real low at first then picked myself back up and came up with a series of exercises to do to work on my body’s weaknesses. I actually had time. I even changed pointe shoes and went from Bloch to Gaynor!
When we were allowed back I felt even stronger than before; lots of ups and downs since then with the frustration of rehearsing until close to showtime but not being able to perform in the end. So I now take each class to really work on all the things I’ve discovered for myself and each rehearsal almost like a show! My ballerina time is now counted as I’m not 25 anymore but I wish I had that approach way sooner! However, keep improving even now and it makes it all worth it!
When midnight hit on December 31st 2020, I was very naively hopeful. But as of right now, the first half of this new year might not be too different from 2020 unfortunately. However, throughout these tough times the ballet world really tried to reinvent itself. Ballet companies around the world innovated digitally which for all of us was a way to witness the beauty of many ballets and dancers we might not have been able to ever see; companies like San Francisco Ballet even created mini ballet movies especially for the digital platform.
Even though this new virtual stage is a huge new exciting way to discover ballet and be accessible to everyone, it will never replace the way you feel when you sit in that seat, the curtain opens and those goosebumps from a live performance appear. I truly wish all ballet companies to survive this and come back to their thriving selves in the near future with no more masks, testing and closed theaters – just grace.
Being 57 and having worked within the world of dance since the age of 16, I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs which have affected the performing arts over the decades. But this is the most challenging year by far. Dancers are the artists with the shortest career in all of the disciplines. Losing precious time on stage is much more significant for them than it would be for an opera singer, a musician or even an actor. Keeping them inspired and hopeful has been our main challenge by offering digital classes and rehearsals whenever possible and whenever allowed by safety protocols.
This has been a very long intermission. It has been a time for reflection and for coming together. Reprogramming repertoire that will be more inspiring will be very important as we reopen. Uniting the community once again in the spirit of reconciliation through the beauty and the truth of artistic expression will be more needed than ever before. I try to keep the dancers hopeful by telling them that, when we all return, what we do will be more profoundly appreciated than we’ve ever seen.
As our audiences fill large theatres and are often older, I’ve always had the conviction that we would return to the stage but not until the populace had been vaccinated. Until then, we recognized that keeping the umbilical cord connected with all of our stakeholders – through digital performances and safe events in smaller numbers – was essential. But now that our government has more precise information on when the Canadian population will be fully vaccinated, we have been able to envision a major season, filled with attractive productions for 2021-2022.
Perhaps we will offer fewer productions and fewer guest companies. By reducing the amount of different productions but still offering significant and impressive shows, we believe we can rebuild our audiences rapidly.
It has undoubtedly been a difficult year for everyone. We have had to adapt, especially as dancers and ballet educators, to a new way of working so as not to lose what – with sacrifice and the years of studies and career – we have achieved so far.
Circumstances have somehow made us more creative, and I see that as something beneficial despite the difficulties. I keep creating a new way of learning for my students. Maybe they don’t have the necessary space to dance widely, but their minds and bodies continue to develop and they continue to be motivated and that motivates me to continue defending and keeping the world of dance alive.
The future is uncertain. But I believe that if we continue feeding our souls by creating and innovating in new things we will return with more strength. It is true that dancers need a stage, an audience that cheers us on. We dance to leave traces in all those who appreciate art. We cannot lose the desires and love for what we do, so we will achieve that when the time to return arrives and we can all laugh at the past.
Principal Guest Artist + Ballet educator at H/W School of Ballet
Louise Hautefeuille (Boston Ballet)
Having been hired straight out of my “trainee years” and not having even completed my first year in the corps when the pandemic hit, I feel I was still transitioning from ballet school life where you are constantly scrutinized and corrected to the (very different) company environment where you are mostly left to improve and work on your own. I was still getting used to using the mirror and feeling proper placement rather than relying on a teacher’s corrections to improve.
Then in March we were sent home and told to wait. I knew then I was in my prime learning years and couldn’t afford to lose any time. I began to film myself doing barre and center every day, did lots of pilates and cross training, even tried different styles of dance. I learned how my body moved, looked and felt, and worked with that information to motivate myself every day.
The extra time gave me the chance to pause, reflect and grow. I did greatly miss the studio space (I took over my family’s dining room to train!), the live classes, my inspiring coworkers, and the performances and now will never take them for granted.
I also took the chance to inspire myself with books, videos, and other media that I wouldn’t have had the time to watch if it weren’t for the layoff. When we came back in the fall I was refreshed, eager to get back to work in the studio, and my love of ballet completely renewed. I am now more grateful than ever to be part of Boston Ballet.
I am hopeful that with all the virtual content that surfaced during the pandemic we will have reached wider audiences and that a new excitement for ballet will resurface. I think we have all (audiences and performers) missed the magic of live performance and will appreciate it all the more after having had it taken away from us for so long.
More specifically in the ballet industry, I hope companies will permanently incorporate new technologies like Zoom classes and meetings, streaming performances, and online communication. This could allow us to continue to bring in choreographers from around the world, have effective large company-wide meetings and communicate efficiently throughout organizations.
I’m also interested in seeing what choreographers will have come up with during this time. Time and emotions are ingredients for new material, so I think there will be a surge of new art!
Nothing prepares you for what we’ve all been through. The early days of the pandemic required 24/7 crisis management. I had to bring our leadership team together to quickly move operations to virtual platforms, develop health and safety protocols for a virus that we were just learning about, and deal with the financial fallout of losing live performances and the associated earned revenue from the box office.
Then the world reacted to the horrific murder of George Floyd and the reckoning that followed, including within the ballet world and in our own organization. We brought the entire organization together for difficult discussions about racism and the lived experiences of racialized artists.
The period between March and the summer of 2020 was the most challenging of my career, but in many ways, it was deeply moving and rewarding. We turned our focus to the people that make our institution great. We worked to protect them as a priority, and to use this time to better understand their individual journeys with and through our organization. We want to emerge from the pandemic better than we were before – unified, adaptable, resilient, and more deeply connected to each other and our community.
2021 will be a deeply challenging year, perhaps more challenging than 2020. During the first year of the pandemic, we had to reduce costs to counter the massive loss of revenue, and not being in the theatre drove significant savings. In 2021, we will return to the theatre with all the costs associated with ramping back up, before we know when the vaccine will produce herd immunity or when audiences will feel it is safe to return.
I think of 2021 as the “leap of faith” year, and it will be inherent with risk. That said, I think that 2022 and the years following will see a major renaissance for the arts. People will flock back to theatres because they now know what the world feels like without art, and without shared human experiences. I am excited about the future.
Here in Germany, we’ve been in and out of lockdowns and quarantines, so we dancers have gotten in and out of shape a half dozen times already. With these extreme ups and downs and with necessary but difficult restrictions on what we can dance, this year has proved to be a challenging one.
Personally, I have been trying to let go of what I cannot control and enjoying what positive things life brings. The unpredictability of our season’s schedule was very difficult at first, but against my nature, I’m learning to let that go. I’ve been taking up yoga and my fiancé and I started biking to work, which has benefited my general well-being but also my work. I’ve also been extra grateful for any time onstage and any time I can work in the studio.
Of course, I am going to continue trying to be very optimistic about the future. Although it looks like we will be entering a full lockdown here in Germany in the next weeks, I am hopeful that these measures combined with vaccination efforts will allow us some kind of in-person audience by end of the season.
It’s hard to predict for ballet companies around the world all in differing situations, but I am sure this test of endurance the last year will cause a lot of dancers to fall more in or out of love with the art form. I hope that although I’d assume virtually every company will be working within smaller budgets for the foreseeable future, companies will be more creative about how they reach global audiences and see the value in social media if they haven’t already. I believe ballet being more accessible instead of less is the best way forward.
Although the performing arts have been considered “non essential”, this time without live performances reaffirmed how art can positively impact a person’s mental state and overall happiness. The pandemic showed how arts and culture are crucial to society; it is so important for ballet to stay relevant and accessible during these times. My job is mainly virtual now, and I am realizing the importance of good quality footage and internet marketing.
Seeing as almost everything now is virtual, I think that the ballet industry will continue to explore different virtual outlets for streaming performances and engaging with new audiences. In a way, the pandemic was a necessary push for the ballet world to progress from its traditional system. I think in the future, ballet companies will continue to stream ballet performances for people to watch at home. Like I mentioned before, I think ballet companies should focus on how to reach broader audiences while maintaining the integrity of the art form.
The pandemic has changed most people in this world. I am finding out more and more how I am changed. It has given me a better perspective on myself and how stress can change work flow and a reminder to view things from the perspective that “everyone is in this together” and that “to hold on to everyone” comes from a good place. Also: “Don’t assume”.
I don’t think any Artistic Director in the US will ever take Nutcracker for granted. Those were scary times… but so lucky to be able have a job and to get to be a creator/producer and artist is a blessing… and a gift.
My prediction is that the first big productions won’t happen until December for Nutcracker and that once we are back slowly, there will be a huge appetite for the arts. I hope we get to really roar back in 2022-23.
The absence of “life as we know it” has been shocking for so many in this field, from ballet dancers to Broadway performers to musical artists. For me personally however, I needed to learn a lesson like this.
Until then, I had taken for granted my schedule of rehearsals, performing, tours, and all the other expected events that occur in a ballet season. It was sort of like a hamster wheel that just kept going each season: “What rehearsals am I called to? What am I dancing? What is my casting?” While I have always been a very hard worker, looking back on that time now, I realize that I had stopped developing as an artist because I was taking my artistic opportunities completely for granted.
Before the pandemic hit, I think the dance world, the ballet world especially, was so steeped in tradition that there was always an underlying sense of “this is how we always do things.” While innovative choreography was already being done, there were many areas where dance was not stepping into the 21st century.
I think 2021 will bring new learning via Zoom, innovative opportunities for choreography, better ways for first-time audience members to become attracted to dance, and an overall greater artistic depth for any dancer that endured the unexpected year of 2020.
Today’s intense political climate combined with the enormous impact of the pandemic has caused me to be more careful about how I approach my job as an artist. I am committed to being more aware of and supportive of diverse voices, whether they be in the studio, the theatre pit, or backstage.
And I am committed to being more responsible in championing music by BIPOC. As a gay man, I have been supported by many allies, and I want to be an ally in return to anyone who has been marginalized. Ballet and music present opportunities to explore our common humanity, but it is that richly diverse human element that we can’t forget.
I don’t have a prediction for 2021, but I do hope that we will allow the past year to change us in the way we approach our art, the way we select programs and music, the way we hire, and the way we treat each other. I hope we will see a greater commitment to social justice, and I will try to do my part as a music director and team player.
The events of the past year have taught me to trust myself, and trust my work ethic as well as trust that my 10,000+ hours I’ve invested into my craft are stronger than a sustained period of inactivity. Muscle memory is amazing, and while I still tried to “take class” albeit in the kitchen most days, it was impossible to perfectly replicate the intensity and exact activity that dancers partake in daily during the season.
I was so concerned about doing enough and staying strong and conditioned during quarantine that now I see so much benefit in even a day that only consists of class – not even rehearsals. Every hour spent dancing each day is a gift.
I expect to see more creativity and resilience, an even stronger sense of community, and continued empathy and support for those immediately involved in the dance world. I am so humbled by the outpouring of support for the ballet from the Sarasota community and although that is not new to these COVID times, I have no doubt that it will continue throughout the remainder of this pandemic, and many years beyond. I hope 2021 sees the return of sold out theatres and audiences for us to bring joy to, safely.
As with so many dancers and artists, the pandemic has truly tested our love and motivation for our jobs. Day after day of ballet class holding on to the kitchen counter with practically no end in sight, we were forced to recognize and identify what was really keeping us going. I personally became even more motivated to stay in shape over the last year, almost as a test to myself, to prove to myself, that I could overcome all of the endless months of time away from work to then eventually be rewarded with a studio and a stage, whenever that could be possible.
That was initially the light at the end of the tunnel – simply class in a studio. Once I finally got back into the ballet building, I approached my job with so much more appreciation, mindfulness, and gratitude. Not only was I able to have a proper floor and a mirror for class, I was rehearsing and performing on stage. I know that so many artists still are not yet able to perform their craft, and I realize how incredibly lucky I am in this moment.
I can only hope that ballet companies will slowly start performing for small and distanced audiences in theaters again by the end of this year. In the meantime, I feel like many of us, myself included, underestimated the power that virtual performances can have on both the artists and the audience to fill the void of live performing arts.
I truly believe that the virtual season the Sarasota Ballet has been releasing over the past several months and all of the other virtual performances happening around the world have not only given the dancers the opportunity to come back to work safely, but also have given our audience members hope – hope that they soon will be able to see us live and hope that there is still indeed art to be consumed. We are able to reach a much broader audience with these virtual performances, which bodes well for ballet’s future when we are all reunited on stage.
Finally, I think these performances have reunited our audience members with both each other and with the dancers, even if from afar.
This past year has been a challenge but also a discovery for me in many levels. I have been working – either teaching, creating programs for young professional dancers, dancing, being a ballet mistress for the first time, choreographing myself even… It is painful to think how many people we lost and that made me focus even more on all the positive that can come out of every situation if we are open to see it, explore new horizons and embrace the new.
I believe a new era has been opened with the need that was brought to us this difficult year. We learned that distance is not necessarily an issue if we want to still learn, create, teach, collaborate…! That being said, nothing can replace being in a studio or a stage, but in a very positive way the dance community has been forced to recreate itself and wonderful things have happened during this pandemic. It is hard for me to imagine a 2021 performing again, but I’m sure I will still look for opportunities to do so!
Typically, Carolina Ballet works for ten months a year in a constant cycle of rehearsing and performing. This current season, there were no shows in the beginning so we needed to create and look for solutions so that dancers could still dance and that the audience still had ballet to appreciate. So we worked on shows that will hopefully happen in February and opened the rehearsals virtually for supporters to watch.
We all had to adjust to the change. Those in leadership positions had to make important decisions to make sure that the company could still function and to prepare for the next part of the season. We had to reduce hours of work in order to make sure the company still has a future after the pandemic passes; that we are in a solid position in the future due to decisions we make now.
We are in a transition period as we approach the second half of the season. As many companies are doing, we will finally be able to perform in the theatres even though it is not to a live audience; but ballet fans will be able to watch these shows streamed live. This may be how the theatre industry has to adapt until we can fully be back in theatres again, which of course, we are all looking forward to.
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since the global public health crisis changed all of our lives. We all know the saying “the show must go on”, but here was a situation where it actually really couldn’t! Having the time away from the cut-and-thrust of my dancing routine gave me the space to remember why I’m dancing.
I had time to read, watch dance, plays, concerts and even visual art exhibitions, all streamed online. The ways in which the cultural sector pivoted to provide digital offerings was quite extraordinary and speaks to the pragmatic creativity artists have.
Communicating ideas and moods is what dancing is about, but a dancer needs to nourish themselves with these other art forms in order to give their own movement vitality. I’ll be taking this into my next dancing years. Ballet is a serious art form with an extraordinary heritage that we respect, but I want to take a sense of buoyancy forward with me.
Not being able to perform left me feeling heavy, and now I’m back to it, I don’t want to take anything for granted. I’m going to allow myself to enjoy it all a little more. In this way, the pandemic has been a powerful teaching tool.
Though I’m full of hope and yearning for the hum of a full auditorium, I don’t think 2021 will see us return to normal. I’m predicting the continuation of small scale projects as the world navigates the vaccine roll-out. We’ll keep some of the innovative outreach provisions cultural institutions have used over the pandemic in order to educate existing audiences, as well as enticing new ones, but we’re understanding everything we do is in service to that live performance experience. Nothing can really replicate that.
I’m hoping for some really exciting programming choices as we go into 2022 from ballet companies worldwide – we’ll see vibrant revivals of cherished works and new choreography filled with vigor as a response to the strange period we’ve just been through.
I’m predicting an assertive stance from our industry, where we show what we value and why this is an important art form.
If anything, I approach my job with more gratitude each day and in every step. Pre-pandemic, I spent nearly every rehearsal overly-critical of myself in pursuit of perfection. I approached every show with anxiety about delivering the “perfect performance” and leaving shows only fixated on what I could’ve done better. After having it all ripped away, I remembered what it meant to just dance for enjoyment. In many ways, it was a great time to reflect on why we actually do what we do.
I like to believe the arts will thrive now that many realize they took it for granted. I also hope organizations find a way to continue to make art accessible. For many viewers, this year provided the opportunity to purchase essentially front row (virtual) seats at a relatively low price for a household – and from anywhere in the world.
Many audience members may still not feel comfortable attending packed theaters any time soon, so we’ll have to find a way to connect these two pandemic and post-pandemic worlds. I think between that and the push for diversity and inclusion in the arts, much is changing and the future is bright.
We last performed onstage in March 2020 and since then have done a series of virtual weekly presentations (Meet Me on Monday, Technique Tuesday, Fitness Friday and Stretch It Sunday). We returned to the studio in July for class daily and will begin doing small studio showings this month. Still no theatre performances, maybe during last part of 2021.
I had to rework everything about what was planned for 2021 and came up with things to do, like making a video archives of Choo San Goh’s ballets, doing a choreographic workshop etc. to use the time well.
I think the rush of doing virtual anything is going to wear thin. There certainly will be more than previously, but going to the theatre and witnessing something in person has a thrill to it that looking to a screen does not. For me, it gives me more respect and a reminder of how valuable the shared experience of theatre is that we always expected was just there for us before. I want it more, not less.
There was a pretty dramatic change in my work status. The Sacramento Ballet Board of Directors terminated my contract due to the financial implications of COVID-19. Fortunately, I still have a creative home with Imagery, and my focus shifted to that work.
Imagery is small and adaptable, strengths that help us, on a good day, see this moment as an opportunity. We shifted our traditional season to dance film and were able to get funding and resources directly into the hands of artists to create. We are reevaluating and rebuilding the organization’s Foundational Documents to ensure that the vision, mission, and values are collectively held, especially when facing challenging times like the past year.
And we are committed to the mirror work necessary to dismantle white-centeredness in our organization. The shift of the past year created space to step back from our habits, from business as usual, carefully considering why we do what we do and how we do it.
Luckily, I’ve had wonderful opportunities through this time for premieres with Imagery, Smuin, Cincinnati Ballet, and American Repertory Ballet. I’ve also been teaching, a lot. Being able to physically and mentally step into the studio and creating has centered me in making the other work possible.
My hope is that some of the pivots and shifts we’ve done well will continue to evolve. For example: screendance is being explored and funded in a way we’ve never experienced as a field. As this genre continues to develop, its reach can continue to grow.
Where once transportation to the studio or a theater was an issue, we can now create art to specifically serve children or elders that can be accessed on sight by schools and senior care facilities. Films that speak to unique communities can allow a focused outreach, expanding beyond the traditional arts audience.
And the reach can be global. We have a new way to serve our communities, and it creates new possibilities in how to do so.
Other examples of things I suspect will stay are classes people can take from their homes, more outdoor performances, and the stage/stream hybrid.
This past year has definitely been a learning curve whether as a dancer or teacher. It has brought a whole new platform to our art form. Before the pandemic I don’t think anyone thought ballet would be able to be taught and danced over the internet – Zoom! Ballet was always thought of as a truly hands on experience. What this pandemic has allowed is a broader view and brought a whole new experience to this art.
However, with that came trials and tribulations of how to make that work well and efficiently for both student and teacher or dancer which required – and still requires – a lot of patience! But it has broadened my thoughts and views and allowed me as a dancer and teacher to grow even through this trying time. I think myself and my teaching has benefited from it all.
I truly hope we are able to get back to some normalcy in the coming year. We know it will be slow to be able to fully get back to a stage full of dancers and an audience that is sitting in that theater watching, but I do hope that it is coming soon!
I think the online presence has been wonderful throughout the pandemic and I hope that doesn’t change as it was so wonderful to be able to be in Raleigh and yet watch NYCB, PNB, Royal Ballet and others from home! That is the one gift the pandemic has given – the world sharing of ballet!
Principal Dancer, Carolina Ballet + Director, Carolina Ballet Summer Intensive
James Sofranko (Grand Rapids Ballet)
The pandemic shut down live performances during only my second season as Artistic Director, so I still felt relatively new, and it is certainly going to shape my view of the industry for the rest of my career.
In some ways, it has taught me that in an administrative position I still need to think like a performer in that “the show must go on.” If you fall on stage or forget a step, you must pick yourself up and carry on. You may have to be creative and improvise to find your way back to the intended choreography, but you have to quickly adapt to your surroundings and get back to the point.
We’ve used the word “nimble” a lot in our discussions of the future, and I like that word, not only because I think it can describe dancers, but because it reminds us that anything can happen and we have to be able to shift gears quickly if needed.
It also has taught me the importance of non-profit organizations and a mission statement. Our mission is to “uplift the human spirit through the art of dance” and I’ve come back to that statement numerous times during this pandemic as a guiding principle. In moments like this, non-profits remind us that there is worth to the collective good in providing an art or a service, beyond pure financial implications.
I am an optimist at heart and I think that once the vaccine is widespread, Grand Rapids Ballet and all live performances will have a fantastic year because there will be a strong desire to share live experiences with our fellow humans. Also our dancers are so eager to get back to the stage where they belong, I have a feeling that there will be a lot of emotion poured into their dancing which will be exciting to watch!
The events of the past year have made me more open to taking job opportunities that fall outside the more traditional scope of dance. And those experiences have also helped me realize and appreciate the kinds of artistic expression that fulfill me… versus the kinds that leave me empty.
I think the ballet world will continue with livestream and videos of performances for a while. Besides waiting for someone to say it’s “okay” to go back into theaters, it’s the “cool” new thing everyone is doing. But instead of putting our energy into that direction, I think we need to fight for what is truly meaningful to us as artists and what is truly meaningful for our audience.
Ballet is meant to be performed live. There’s an almost tangible energy component exchanged not only between the dancers working together on stage but also with the audience, live and in the moment. Real art is meant to be experienced… not just seen. It may be beautiful to have an artistically filmed dance piece with interesting camera angles, but that’s a completely different art than live performances.
I committed to my ballet career with the intent to connect with people. I can’t do that when there’s no audience to connect with or other dancers to collaborate with. For me, it’s really important to fight for ballet to return to a live performance format so it can be truly appreciated and experienced for the beautiful art that it is, an art that many of us have dedicated decades of our lives to.
Given that we are quite limited by the pandemic in terms of the physical work that we can do, I have spent more time thinking about how my experiences outside of the studio can contribute to my dancing. I have been a part-time college student for a while, but our shortened season has enabled me to take more intense classes and undertake extra research, all of which has given me a sense of identity beyond being a dancer.
It’s been an interesting experience to live through something traumatizing and to also have this ample time for reflection. I feel like it’s given me a new understanding of empathy and a restored sense of gratitude, both of which are essential to creating good art. Ultimately, approaching my work with this broadened perspective has highlighted the potential for dance to contribute some clarity and beauty to a seemingly unmanageable world.
For me, the greatest joy in dance has always been performing for a live audience in a theater, and my hope is that in 2021 we will be able to do that again! I think quite often about stepping on stage and seeing people in theater seats, and I am so looking forward to sharing that momentous occasion with my colleagues and with our community.
I also hope that dance, and art more generally, will be revered and valued as an integral part of our lives. So many people have been turning to art to cope with the fallout of this pandemic, and so my hope is that people will have a renewed enthusiasm for art and will want to support it in the future. After being unable to gather in groups and experience live dance, I hope that people will appreciate the experience that much more.
At the beginning of the lockdown I took a break from ballet. I stayed active, but was enjoying exercise without the need for it to be enhancing my dancing. It was wonderful to just move!
Without a performance on the horizon I had time to step away from the demands and expectations of the profession, reflect on the years I’ve spent dancing professionally, and think about how I want to move forward as an artist. I discovered I was holding on to thought patterns and approaches that didn’t serve me well.
It’s still a work in progress, but I am approaching my work now with a renewed connection to what I believe ballet can be on an emotional, artistic and human level. And reaching for that same sense of simply enjoying moving.
I believe we will see more creativity with alternative venues and accessibility. Because it is still going to take a while for the vaccine to be widely distributed, we need to let go of the proscenium arch in our minds and really commit to making art under these new conditions. The theatre will always be there and if we can use this time to invent new ways of reaching an audience, once we return to the theatre we will have a number of ways to support, contrast, and enhance that experience.
I found a different way to use my teaching voice, how to give instructions that could transcend the screen, how to observe and give thoughtful corrections, and specifically, I learned how to contribute to the dancers’ experience even when all of us participants were in a different physical space; a way to connect us all and create community in a time when we all have missed the beauty of sharing through movement.
Being in seclusion forced me to stop the race against time that I was used to living everyday with my many responsibilities, and this allowed me much needed rest, sleep, and taking care of myself in ways I had neglected for a very long time. I was able to focus on the practice of meditation and introspection. Had energy and space to sing, write, read and notice the world around me, as well as observe myself.
I do not believe we will be “back to normal”, even though at some point we will be able to go back to the studio and share with one another. I think in the future, we will utilize what we’ve learned, and the many different alternatives we are using now, to reach more and diverse audiences as we keep learning various ways of communication.
I predict, hope and plan to keep teaching on-line as an alternative to reach other countries for example. As well as continue dancing for others and creating my own choreographic work on video that can give us a more cinematic perspective of the images we typically work with. All of this opens doors, not only to reach more audiences, but to attract economic support which is always needed.
Ballet and Contemporary Dancer, Choreographer, Artistic Coach + Educator
Ashley Wheater MBE (The Joffrey Ballet)
My focus continues to be on the health of The Joffrey Ballet and the welfare of our dancers, staff and students. The pandemic complicates everything.
Because of limitations on the size of gatherings, we moved to online classes and/or limited the size of in-studio rehearsals. Without live performances, we stay connected with our audience by means of virtual events. We reduced our operating budget by 55% and we have learned to do more with less. Our community of supporters remain generous. We could not survive without them.
Despite all the obstacles, we are still creating. When we emerge from the pandemic, I want the Joffrey to be artistically vibrant, with an arsenal of meaningful work to share with our audience. Cathy Marston, Nicolas Blanc and Yoshihisa Arai are creating new ballets on the Company. Our dancers are fully engaged, and a beautiful group of young dancers is rising through our Academy.
Our hope for returning to “normal” depends on COVID vaccination. Live performances will not be viable (emotionally or financially) until our audience is safe and comfortable gathering in an auditorium. If we are successful in distributing vaccines and if these vaccines prove to be effective, we may be back in theaters sometime this autumn.
If not, we will continue to offer our art form in new and creative ways. I believe that dance and music are fundamental to the human experience. If for some reason we are unable to return to the old model, we will invent a new one.
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as an audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.